Just another day. (l-r) Clegg, Compo and Foggy, pursued by the formidable Nora Batty
Last of the Summer Wine was a gentle, family-friendly TV comedy set in rural Yorkshire, Oop North in England, which became the world's longest-running Sitcom. First aired in 1973 and running almost continually until 2010, its remarkable longevity is starkly ironic in light of the fact that it centred from the word go upon a Comic Trio of elderly men who as the show's title suggests were meant to be living out the autumn of their years, and their friends and neighbours of a similar, erm, vintage. Frequently regressing to a kind of eccentric second youth, the trio routinely got themselves into comic scrapes, often while trying to help somebody or partake in a perfectly sensible-sounding Zany Scheme. Just quite how old the characters were meant to be originally is unsure, but the actors were actually in their 50s when the show was first aired, and by the final episode the oldest surviving cast members were in their late 80s.The original trio was Compo (scruffy and lazy, played by Bill Owen), Clegg (meek, quiet and sensible, played by ever-present Peter Sallis) and Blamire (pompous, opinionated conservative, played by Michael Bates); Blamire was replaced in 1976 by the first of several Suspiciously Similar Substitutes, 'Foggy' Dewhirst (pompous, ex-military), played by Brian Wilde and who quickly elected himself the leader of the other two, who put up with this arrangement because his schemes always went so amusingly wrong. Subsequent leaders, all pompous, were incompetent inventor and ex-teacher Seymour Utterthwaite (Michael Aldridge, 1986-90), a returning Foggy (1990-97) and ex-policeman 'Truly' Truelove (Frank Thornton, 1998-2010). Toward the end, a new trio took the central role, while Clegg and Truly receded into supporting roles.Most of the characters had a Yorkshire accent, and exemplified many of the associated stereotypes. During its run, the show used the majority of Comedy Tropes, most commonly Zany Scheme. It also had many running gags: Howard and Marina's affair, Auntie Wainwright's shop, Nora Batty's stockings. The quintessential sight, at least in public perception, was someone usually Compo whizzing down a hill in some Homemade Invention like a tin bathtub with wheels on, crashing into a low drystone wall at the bottom and disappearing over it into a field. Despite their age, the characters appeared to have rubber bones, routinely suffering accidents like this which would leave most people severely injured, let alone someone of their advanced years.Unsurprisingly perhaps, after decades on the air the show was frequently a target of those who saw it as stale and repetitive and wished to see it axed. The BBC kept producing new episodes, however, as it remained highly popular, in particular among older generations; several older members of the British Royal Family were known to have apparently stated Summer Wine was their favourite television programme, including HM The Queen and the Queen Mother. More bizarrely, so did President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.New seasons were broadcast most years of its run (1973, 1975-79, 1982-83, 1985-86, 1988-2010), as well as multiple holiday specials and a two-season Spin-Off, First of the Summer Wine, a Prequel broadcast in 1988-89. In August 2010, the show was finally concluded by the BBC after 31 series. Every episode ever was written by just one man: Roy Clarke.Came fourteenth in Britain's Best Sitcom.
It would be easier to list the tropes this series did NOT used by the end of its epic run, but some of the more frequently invoked were:
Abhorrent Admirer: Marina to Clegg. Supposedly Compo to Nora Batty, but there were increasing hints over the years that she secretly welcomed his attentions.
Absentee Actor: The actor who played Barry, Mike Grady, was gone between 1990-96 working on other shows. Glenda mentioned him very frequently during that time in order to indicate that he hadn't just run off.
Anyone Can Die: Not worked into the show so much as it is the fact that many of the actors on the show were rather elderly. Despite this, the show had a very long run indeed.
Apron Matron: This is perhaps THE Sitcom for Apron Matrons, as practically every female cast member fell under this trope. Those who didn't when they were introduced only needed a decade or two to assimilate. Clegg says of their town in the first episode: "This is God's number-one area for unpleasant women of strong character."
It's implied that most of the female cast were quite good-looking in their younger days, and strongly implied that given the nature of their respective menfolk, their subsequent character development is entirely understandable
The Artifact: A close miss with the name of the show itself it was nearly titled "The Library Mob", in anticipation of the location being central to the core characters' lives and Zany Schemes. Early on, however, the library's importance as a setting dwindled considerably from its original conception.
The character Tom Simmonite was initially intended to take his father Compo's place in the central trio. However, the result was awkward because Tom was so much younger than the other two. After a small number of episodes, the character Billy Hardcastle started to take Tom's place. But, Tom stayed on the show, now in a much-reduced role as Auntie Wainwright's shop assistant, for the remaining ten years of its run.
Ascended Extra: Probably one of the biggest culprits of this, increasingly so as the series went on, as previous mainstays died off or had their roles reduced due to age. The characters of Wesley, Smiler, Auntie Wainright, Billy and all three policemen were originally one-off appearances, who later came back as regulars. Countless other minor characters were increased in importance, with Alvin, Billy & Entwistle graduating to members of the main trio.
Auntie Wainwright appears to be a case of Throw It In, completely unrelated to the original set-up but much too good a joke and actress to be allowed to let slip.
Asexuality: Clegg is not classified as this outright, but he was quite open about his aversion to romance and sex, even during his marriage. As evidence, see his squicked reaction whenever Marina or any other woman showed an interest in him.
In the episode "A Landlady for Smiler" Clegg states he was quite relieved when his hormones had settled down and women didn't interest him as much, and he had woken up as a middle-aged man. When Compo asks how long ago was that, he answers that "I suppose when I was about 23 years old."
Beach Episode: A multi-parter was done in Scarborough early in the series, and another one, in France, just before Compo's death.
British Accents: Most characters naturally had a Yorkshire one, and Edie would try to put on an absurdly exaggerated posh southern one (which often breaks down).
British Brevity: ...Well. Utterly destroyed the traditional limits with its grand total of 295 episodes, which is hardly anything to sneeze at even by American standards, but it's a relatively low number for a show that ran for 37 years. Most seasons, per the Anglo norm, were 7-10 episodes long.
The Bus Came Back: Foggy (literally!) his character returned in 1990, after a five-year absence, on the next actual bus after the one his replacement Seymour had just left on.
Call Back: Truly was introduced in a special about wacky hijinks leading up to a wedding, "There Goes The Groom" as had been Seymour years before in "Uncle of the Bride".
Cast Herd: Began appearing increasingly once the extended Pegden family was introduced in the '80s. This mostly broke down into a female herd (which always stuck pretty close together) and a male herd, which would include the main trio and any other blokes they would pick up throughout the episode. After Compo died, the herds of men became less cohesive, as did the female herd after Edie's death.
Clegg, after coming out of Auntie Wainwright's: "I didn't buy an (X), I was sold an (X)!"
Marina referring to Clegg as "...Nnnorman Clegg that was!"
Clegg philosophically complaining about something: "It's flying in the face of nature!"
The Character Died with Him: The show generally wasn't shy about having (the mostly elderly) characters die at the same time that their actors did, with the most memorable onscreen funeral being that of Compo, who had been a central character for 26 years. His actor, Bill Owen, who died the year before, was even buried in the town of Holmfirth where the series was filmed.
Character Outlives Actor: Contrary to the above, there were occasional exceptions to the rule of killing off characters after their actors' deaths. Most notably, legendary battleaxe Nora Batty was left alive "in Australia" after a 35-year run following her actress Kathy Staff's death. Recurrent incidental character Eli was earlier left in limbo forever after actor Danny O'Dea died, even though he appeared in most episodes over 15 years; since he was rarely crucial to the plot and wasn't closely related to any other characters, his ultimate fate remained unmentioned.
Chew Toy: Smiler, the gentle, elderly, lugubrious assistant to the fearsome Auntie Wainwright.
Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: While most characters were given at least passing mention when they departed, there were a few notable exceptions:
Eli Duckett, a popular recurring character for 15 years, was never mentioned again after the actor playing him died, as noted just above.
Ros was never mentioned again after her actress left following the 26th series.
When Tom first arrived in town, he was accompanied by Mrs. Avery, a potential love interest and foil for Nora Batty, and her niece, Babs. Both characters were unpopular, and Babs disappeared after only three episodes, while Mrs. Avery was around for a series. Neither character was mentioned since their departure despite their former relationship with Tom.
Earlier on, the librarians, Mr. Wainwright and Mrs Partridge, were regulars during the first series but disappeared completely during the second series without mention or explanation. Mr. Wainwright would return for a few episodes during the third season but disappeared completely following the third series and was never mentioned again.
Comic Trio: The core of the series for the great majority of its run, with several decades centred around the characters of Compo, Clegg and A.N. Other sequentially Blamire, Foggy, Seymour, Foggy (again) and Truly. Less so in the later years following Compo's death, when the series tinkered with pairs, quartets, quintets, and mobs without matching the success of the previous trios.
Commuting on a Bus: In the final season, Clegg and Truly no longer received top-billing. Actors Peter Sallis and Frank Thornton were no longer covered by insurance to shoot outdoor scenes due to their age born days apart in early 1921, both were pushing 90 and since the series mostly consisted of outdoor scenes, they were limited only to brief cameos (mostly at Clegg's flat) from then on.
Convenient Replacement Character: Often, when a main trio member bowed out, a replacement character showed up to fulfill that very same role. The famous example is Seymour's last episode, where he was called out of retirement and left town; Foggy moved back into town on the very next bus. The two just barely missed one another.
A less-remembered example was when Truly replaced Foggy. In this case, Truly is already hanging out with the trio (and Foggy, played by a stand-in kept facing away from the camera, is too badly hung-over to speak). By the end of the episode, Foggy has suddenly married and moved away, and Truly simply carries on in his place.
Correspondence Course: Seymour ran one of these, known as the Utterthwaite Postal University. Compo read its logo as "Up You!", to Seymour's consternation.
Cousin Oliver: Babs, a brooding teenager who arrived in town in the care of Tom and Mrs. Avery but quickly disappeared after only three episodes due to negative reaction to the character.
The Danza: Tom Simmonite (Tom Owen), following in the footsteps of his dad William "Compo" Simmonite" (Bill Owen).
Darker and Edgier: The original novel by Roy Clarke was noticeably darker in tone than the resulting sitcom; it was adapted fairly faithfully as a special halfway through the show's run, with Foggy instead of Blamire, and the change in tone from a usual episode is quite jarring. (It uses all the usual Yorkshire themes, like adultery- and death-based plot, but does so in a much more serious manner).
Daydream Believer: Referenced by Clegg when Howard is trying to get him to judge the quality of a disguise, and Clegg says he wouldn't be any use because he's too gullible:
Deadpan Snarker: Clegg and Ivy both spoke sarcasm like it was a second language.
Driving Stick: Edie ("This stupid stick thing! It's your father, he keeps moving the pedals around!"). Not that she'd be any better in an automatic...
An inversion with Clegg, who's terrified at the prospect of driving an automatic. But then, he's terrified of driving anyway...
Everyone Went to School Together: True of almost the whole cast, except maybe second-generation people like Barry and Glenda. Ignores the sometimes wide age disparity between actors, or the fact that some characters were introduced as newcomers.
Expy: Series writer Roy Clarke has pulled a number of Expies on his own shows. Auntie Wainwright is a female variation of Arkwright from Open All Hours, while Hyacinth from Keeping Up Appearances took Edie Pegden's pretentions to a greater extreme. Nora Batty's actress also played a very similar character, Mrs Blewitt, in Open All Hours.
Fake Nationality: Well, region, which in England is almost the same thing. Peter Sallis, a southerner, as Norman Clegg used a Yorkshire accent convincing enough that Wallace & Gromit creator Nick Park, upon calling him to ask him to voice Wallace, refused to believe that Sallis' natural accent was his own. The trope fits Sallis' fellow Londoner Bill Owen as well. Burt Kwouk, who is of Chinese parentage and grew up in Shanghai, appears as a Yorkshireman in the show but was actually born over the county border in Lancashire... which is a division of utmost seriousness Oop North.
First Name Basis: Barry and Glenda: Barry's surname, Wilkinson, was only given in the special that introduced the two and saw them married, "Uncle of the Bride". Marina, despite appearing for 25 years as Howard's continual extramarital love interest, never gained a surname. Of the 'central trio', most were known by nicknames (e.g. Compo, Foggy, Truly) or surname (Clegg), but Seymour is always referred to as such possibly because 'Utterthwaite' is a little unwieldy.
Flanderization: Clegg went from being the acerbic, logical one to being the lily-livered coward of the trio. It started with him pointing out flaws in Foggy's schemes and snowballed into him desperately seeking any excuse to "give up and go home".
Alternative, more specific but equally poignant lyrics were used in the episode where Compo dies.
The Friend Nobody Likes: Foggy. He's pompous, delusional, hypocritical and sometimes seems to have a desire to get Compo killed. In fact, the only reason Compo and Clegg hang out with him is because Blamire asked them to, so their whole "friendship" is a favor to their real friend.
Compo:(about Foggy) Nice fella. Nobody likes him.
Subverted with the other third men (Blamire, Seymour and Truly), who are genuinely well-liked by Compo and Clegg.
Glad I Thought of It: Foggy tended to do this very frequently, but he was so unsubtle about it that most people just pitied him and went along with it.
Heterosexual Life-Partners: Compo and Clegg were virtually inseparable for the first twenty seasons of the show's run, right up until Compo's death in Series 21, which devastated Clegg. Then, when Truly helped Clegg through his grief, he and Clegg were almost always seen together.
Hey, It's That Guy!: As the show entered its later years in particular, it became a sort of retirement home for British thespians of a certain vintage, particularly those known from other comedic roles. A good example is Frank Thornton (Truly Truelove), a.k.a. Captain Peacock. To a lesser extent, Brian Wilde (Foggy Dewhirst) a.k.a. Mr Barrowclough and Stephen Lewis (Smiler), Blakey from On The Buses. Veteran actress Thora Hird (Edie) was also recognisable as herself from Songs of Praise. Possibly less known is Michael Bates (Blamire), who played Rangi Ram in It Ain't Half Hot Mum. Auntie Wainwright was played by Jean Alexander, who was soap Long RunnerCoronation Street's Hilda Ogden for 13 years before appearing throughout the last two decades of Last of the Summer Wine, joined by the last few of those by June Whitfield of Terry & June and Absolutely Fabulous fame. Russ Abbot (Hobbo in the show's last series) was well-known for his own comedy shows and music from earlier years, while Burt Kwouk (Entwistle) had spent decades representing all manner of Interchangeable Asian Cultures as one of Britain's few well-known oriental actors, in everything from The Pink Panther films as Cato to three James Bond films.
Hollywood Geography: Holmfirth is actually a fairly large town; the locations such as the cafe, the row of houses, Compo's flat and the moorland road all exist but their implied proximity is an artefact of the format and editing.
Homemade Inventions: The fuel for umpteen plots and mishaps through the series' long run. Chief sources were Seymour, Foggy and Wesley.
Iconic Outfit: Compo's trousers and wellies. Nora Batty's curlers and wrinkled stockings.
Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Nearly every episode name just adds to the eccentricity of the show but there are some that stick out more then others such as "The Inventor of the 40ft Ferret," "When You Take A Good Bite, Yorkshire Tastes Terrible," and "The Only Diesel Saxophone in Captivity."
In fact a lot of the more unusual episode names are actually a line of dialogue from the episode being done many years before TwoAndAHalfMen had the idea!
I Meant to Do That: Most times when Foggy would really mess something up he would find a way to boast about it. Examples include being put in his place by an angry bystander (he claims he stopped it escalating into actual violence), falling off a cart (into a paratrooper roll), and completely misunderstanding what a Loxley Losenge was (he claimed he was trying to imply it's too important to discuss in public)
Informed Attribute: When Tom Owen first joined the cast, the other characters frequently made a point of remarking that he was "just like his father", the recently departed Compo/Bill Owen. Even though there were some mild similarities, the comments seemed more intended to convince viewers to embrace the younger Owen as a replacement for the older one.
In-Series Nickname: Compo often called Foggy by the insult "Tha gret long dollop", while Seymour commonly referred to the other two (and Wesley, etc.) as 'you boys' and Compo specifically as 'small person'.
Last Kiss: Following actor Bill Owen's death, his character Compo was killed off, off-camera we hear that he had a heart attack when woken up by Nora Batty, who was dressed as a cabaret dancing girl. She later recounted giving him mouth to mouth and his last words of "Can we try this again when I'm feeling better?".
Loads and Loads of Characters: Started off with a fair number of characters, and over the decades this increased as many popular guest stars and other Ascended Extras became regular cast members. Nonetheless, all the characters usually appeared in every episode. This meant that there were conveniently plenty of characters to fall back on if one of the cast members died, retired, or became too infirm to participate. Similarly, having such a large supporting cast reduced the strain on the principal actors, who in the later years were well into their 80s. Conversely, a later episode could only afford to have the tiniest shred of a plot so they could fit in enough scenes to accommodate all the players.
Long Runners: Defied its premise a trio of elderly men enjoying the autumn of their years to set the boundaries for its genre, with a span of 37 years: the BBC claims it as the longest-running Sitcom in the world, ever. If they had known how long it would go, one wonders if they would've started the main characters out as preteens: ever-present Peter Sallis was in his early fifties when the show started and nearly 90 when it ended. Despite its extraordinarily long run, it is not the sitcom with the most episodes overall that would be The Simpsons due to British Brevity meaning there were 6-12 episodes in most seasons, resulting in 'only' 295. This gives it easily the most for any Brit Com, naturally.
Mars and Venus Gender Contrast: One of the main drivers of the humour. Usually approached by the women, but occasionally the men would weigh in as well, such as Norman Clegg stating the reason why women scare him is that they don't like The Goon Show.
May-December Romance: Well, perhaps August-December it's not quite certain how old Marina is, though she's of 'a certain age', but still considerably younger than her lust object Howard.
Mistaken Nationality / Inscrutable Oriental: Subverted with Entwistle, a deeply Yorkshire-sounding name, played by the Chinese-ethnicity actor Burt Kwouk and apt to come out with gnomic aphorisms. When question about where in the Far East he comes from, he says he's from... Hull, on the Yorkshire coast: "You can't get further east than Hull." His original surname was McIntyre, but he changed it so that people wouldn't mistake him for a Scotsman.
Multiple Choice Past: Foggy. Although he always had the attribute of 'exaggerating his military experience', in his first run he seemed to have some such experience and exaggerated it a little, whereas in his second run this was Flanderized into apparently never having seen action at all, but claiming to be a master of martial arts, trained silent killer and having been offered the crowns of several native tribes.
And then there's Clegg, who was married for a couple of decades, despite an apparently life-long record of asexuality.
No, Except Yes: Every time Clegg walks out of Auntie Wainwright's having been bullied into buying something useless.
Another character: Why did you buy an (X)?
Clegg: I didn't buy an (X), I was sold an (X)!
Only Known by Their Nickname / Only One Name: Quite a few of the male cast in particular, with many characters referred to habitually by only one name, from Blamire to Entwistle sometimes a real name, often not. Clegg was usually called 'Cleggy' and only rarely 'Norman', Seymour was in contrast referred to by his first name only. Compo's real name of William (Bill) Simmonite was very rarely indeed referred to: you'd be able to watch for years without ever divining his surname, let alone his real first name. Foggy's full name was Walter C. Dewhirst, Truly's Herbert Truelove. Smiler's real name, Clem Hemingway, was only given in his introductory episode. The practice was more or less de rigeur by the end of the show's run, hence 'Hobbo' (Luther Hobdyke), while Entwistle's only extant first name appeared to be 'Electrical'.
Ostentatious Secret: Compo's matchbox, with its unknown but terrifying contents. Joke shops in England used to stock matchboxes exactly like that one, each containing a rubber severed penis.
Pantomime Dame: Inverted by Marina and Nora Batty, at times. Marina's appearance verged at times on the grotesque or parodic, and Nora Batty's views regarding Compo come very close to Aside Glance at times.
Pet the Dog: Fierce as the ladies were, they were all given their tender-hearted moments. This mostly happened for Pearl, arguably the meanest female on the programme, who noticeably kept an eye out for the widowed Clegg, particularly after Compo died.
It might be inferred that Pearl and Clegg might have been quite fond of each other at some earlier stage of their lives, and Pearl still carried a torch for him to some extent.
Pearl's "mean nature" is really an artefact of her basic role as foil to the absurd Howard; she has the basic problem of defending an untenable position and deals with this by treating her husband as the fool he is, rather than be treated as a laughing-stock by the other Apron Matrons.
The Pig Pen: Wesley, being continuously covered in motor oil. On one occasion when Edie actually managed to get him clean, the others pretended not to recognise him.
Put on a Bus: Mostly when one of the cast would die, the show quietly killed off their character, but mentioned the death in passing. However, when Kathy Staff died, her character, Nora Batty, packed up and moved off to Australia, and was never mentioned again, despite having been one of the show's iconic characters.
Averted in the case of Compo, whose in-universe funeral following the real-life death of Bill Owen formed a complete episode.
Real Life Writes the Plot: Younger characters became the protagonists towards the latter end of the series as the BBC was having major difficulty finding insurance cover for Sallis (Clegg) and Thornton (Truly), who were both well over eighty, for location shooting so the actors were restricted to studio shooting only.
When Bill Owen, the actor playing Compo died in 1999, his real-life son Tom joined the cast playing Compo's long lost son... Tom.
Many of the supporting actors died during the show's run, with their deaths being written into the script.
Reality Subtext: As noted, most cast deaths were written into the series, and the most elderly actors increasingly appeared in only marginal roles toward the end. Peter Sallis as Clegg also only appeared in fewer scenes during the later series due to his macular degeneration.
Robin Hood: Compo's eventual replacement as a member of the central trio was Billy Hardcastle, who modelled himself on Robin Hood. His first appearance on the show showed him attempting to recruit a band of Merry Men to go with him to rob from the rich and give to the poor.
The ladies over at Edie's house for tea and buns had two: always sipping their tea in an unconscious synchronized movement, and having a Politeness Judo contest over the big cream eclair.
Edie laying down a trail of newspapers for Wesley to walk on whenever she called him into the house, due to him being covered in oil.
Howard's many complicated plans for ensuring that his adultery with Marina wasn't discovered (even though Everybody Knew Already) "I think we've really cracked it this time love!" It was sometimes implied that he was more interested in coming up with the Zany Schemes than the adultery itself. Indeed it's implied that no actual infidelity ever takes place.
Sadist Teacher: Seymour. When he is called back to work after years of retirement "What do you mean, you're not allowed to hit small boys? That's what they're for!"
Scenery Porn: Yorkshire is pretty. Yorkshire is very pretty.
Seinfeldian Conversation: Initially the show was almost entirely devoted to this. Latterly it was mainly limited to token scenes, but it was still always there.
In the Foggy years, this usually consisted of Foggy carrying a thread about his heroic war experiences/how the other two needed to get into shape, while Compo monologues about Nora Batty, and Clegg mused on something randomly philosophical, such as the implications of the fact that all men are equally purple on the inside.
Serious Business: In interview, Peter Sallis noted that the show almost never got off the ground, as Owen and Bates had been cast a little too well as political opposites and were forever having violent political arguments during the pilot and early series. No, really.
Smith of the Yard: Not that he was ever recognised for any great detective skills, but retired policeman Herbert Truelove liked to give himself the epithet "Truly of the Yard".
Spot of Tea: All the time in Ivy's cafe. Seymour would sometimes revive Compo after being injured by one of his inventions with "hot sweet tea" which to Compo was never sweet enough, being a 'take one spoonful out of the bowl, tip the rest of the bowl into your cup, then return the spoon' type of fellow.
Strictly Formula: The beginning of most of the '90s Foggy episodes followed a very set routine. Each show would start not necessarily in this order with a scene of Compo trying to romance Nora, a scene of Foggy boring/repelling a stranger with a made-up war story, and a scene of Howard bursting into Clegg's house to ask a favor. Once Foggy left, the openings became a little more varied, although there were still many scenes of Compo pursuing Nora and Howard bothering Clegg.
Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Burly, dark-haired Crusher certainly appeared to be this, because of his resemblance to burly, dark-haired Sid (John Comer). Although oddly, Crusher was supposed to be related to Ivy's side of the family.
All the characters referred to as the "third man" of the central trio were physically similar usually much taller than the short Clegg and Compo, as well as tending to be of a higher social class and had a bossy temperament, but are not without their own quirks.
Vitriolic Best Buds: Blamire and Compo's relationship, to a tee. They constantly bickered and sniped at one anothers' politics and personalities, but nonetheless spent tons of time hanging out together (even in the absence of Clegg).
Your Cheating Heart: The Howard/Pearl/Marina storyline was in later years the second-most prominent on the show, but even before they came along, many of the plots surrounded the trio blackmailing some fellow they'd caught fooling around in the hills.
Before Howard and Marina were introduced, there was the librarian and his female assistant in the earliest episodes.