Last week the BBC announced that the summer wine will finally run out as it has cancelled The Last of the Summer Wine after an impressive 37 years on-air.
The veteran comedy series was created by Roy Clarke who has written every single episode of the series while still finding time to create and write comedy’s such as Keeping Up Appearances, Open All Hours and Ain’t Misbehaving. It’s only fair then that ATV takes a look at the career of comedy’s of Roy Clarke as he becomes an ATV Icon.
There is, perhaps, a rather unfair image of Last of the Summer Wine in that most episodes feature three old men chasing after a bath-tub that is plunging its way down a hill – often the bath-tub will have someone inside it. This image of the BBC comedy series has stuck over the years just as the reputation of wobbly walls and fluffed lines has stuck to Crossroads but both reputations are undeserved – for in their heyday the two shows were hugely popular drawing audiences of 18 million viewers.
Last of the Summer Wine was created by Roy Clarke in 1973 and few would have thought then that the comedy series would still be going 37 years later! The comedy is set, and filmed, in the Yorkshire village of Holmfirth and revolves around the a trio of old men – and various supporting characters. Over the years the trio of central characters has changed somewhat as actors have dropped out of the series due to illness or sadly passed away.
The original line-up consisted of Bill Owen, Peter Sallis and Michael Bates – Bates left the series after two seasons and was replaced by Brian Wilde. Over the years Michael Aldridge and Frank Thornton also joined the series as part of the ever changing line-up of the series. Actor Bill Owen appeared in the series until 2000 when he passed away and his real life son, Tom Owen, was written into the series as Compo’s on-screen son. As well as the central three characters many other supporting characters have been central to the shows continual success such as Nora Batty played by Kathy Staff and Edie Pegden played by Thora Hird while Jean Alexander, Russ Abbott, June Whitfield, Burt Kwouk, Brian Murphy, Keith Clifford, Dora Bryan, Trevor Bannister, Stephen Lewis, Barbara Young and Josephine Tewson have also joined the cast over the years giving the show another of its reputations – for being a “retirement home” for veteran comedy actors.
Last of the Summer Wine was originally commissioned by Duncan Wood, head of Comedy at the BBC, in 1972. Wood had seen Clarke’s drama The Misfits and has been impressed with it enough to offer Clarke to write a sitcom – although the BBC weren’t initially convinced by Clarke’s ideas for Last of the Summer Wine or even the title – they preferred The Library Mob. The pilot episode of the series premiered as part of the BBC’s Comedy Playhouse strand and was well received by viewers so a series was commissioned.
Although the series did not rate well the corporation ordered a second run and every single episode of Last of the Summer Wine has been written by Roy Clarke! Since 1983 the series has been produced and directed by Alan J.W Bell who introduced the format more closely associated with the series today. In 1988 a prequel series was created and written by Roy Clarke and followed the wartime antics of the characters in First of the Summer Wine. The prequel was not as successful as its parent show and only lasted for two seasons clocking up 13 episodes. Amongst the actors to appear in the series were Judy Flynn, David Fenwick, Paul Oldham, Paul Wyett, Maggie Ollerenshaw and Peter Sallis – who still continued to appear in the parent series. While the prequel wasn’t a success it didn’t stop other projects relating to Last of the Summer Wine taking places such as various novelisation’s and stage plays.
1973 also saw Roy Clarke create another series for the BBC – Open All Hours. The comedy set in a corner shop starred Ronnie Barker, Lynda Baron and David Jason which much of the comedy revolving around Arkwright [Barker] chasing of Nurse Gladys [Baron] and his tight-fisted ways. Each episode would close with a monologue by Arkwright. Amongst the supporting cast of the series was Kathy Staff who was also appearing in Clarke’s fellow comedy series, Last of the Summer Wine, at the time as well as Granada soap Coronation Street.
In the late 1970s the actress would divide her time between appearing in Last of the Summer Wine and Crossroads where she played Doris Luke. Interestingly her fellow Open All Hours cast members David Jason and Lynda Baron has also appeared in the Motel soap. Jason appeared in the 1960s as Motel gardener Bernie Kilroy while Baron appeared as the ambitious Phoebe Tompkins. Actress Maggie Ollerenshaw, who would go on to appear in First of the Summer Wine, also appeared in Open All Hours with Stephanie Cole and Barbara Flynn also appearing. While the pilot episode for Open All Hours aired in 1973 it wasn’t until 1975 that the comedy returned for a full series and ran for four seasons between 1975 and 1985 – originally airing on BBC Two before being promoted to BBC One.
In all there were 26 episodes of the series with Barker and Jason appearing in all 26 while Baron appeared in 25. In the original pilot for the series the role of Nurse Gladys was played by Shelia Brennan with Baron taking over for the full series. Open All Hours is regularly repeated on various cable channels and still tops polls of the nation’s favourite comedy moments, characters and series’.
In 1990 Clarke created another hugely popular comedy series that would become one of the nation’s favourite comedies and would regularly top polls – Keeping Up Appearances. The series primarily revolved around social snob Hyacinth Bucket (Patricia Routledge) who insists her name is actually pronounced Bouquet. Hyacinth is determined to mix in the right social circles and attempts to achieve this through a series of “candle-lit” suppers and various tries at getting into local Amateur Dramatics through local neighbour Emmett (David Griffin).
While Hyacinth is very much the central character of the series there are a large array of supporting characters who frequently appear suffering at the hands of Hyacinth’s snobbery. Firstly there was Richard (Clive Swift) her long-suffering husband while her neighbour Elisabeth (Josephine Tewson) is a frequent guest at Hyacinth’s but never manages to drink a whole cup of coffee without spilling it or breaking the cup – one of the many recurring gags throughout the series.
As Hyacinth is a snob she is deeply embarrassed by her family and frequently tries to keep them away from her more “higher class” guests and friends – this usually results in disaster though and frequently they do meet much to Hyacinths dismay. Tarty younger sister Rose (Shirley Stelfox/Mary Millar) goes through men quicker than Hyacinth goes through “candle-ligt suppers” while frustrated Daisy (Judy Cornwall) longs for her husband Onslow (Geoffrey Hughes) to notice her. Meanwhile Violet (Anna Dawson) is often used as a boasting point by Hyacinth but whenever Violet appears in the series it quickly leads to more embarrassment for Hyacinth.
Keeping Up Appearances used a series of regular “gags” and catch phrases to keep audiences amused such as the regular disappearance of “Daddy”, Onslow’s car always backfiring and the Postman/Milkman trying to deliver to Hyacinth’s without her spotting them. Other regularly gags include Hyacinth’s answering of the phone, correcting people on the pronunciation of her name and telephone conversations to the often mentioned, but not seen, son Sheridan who always wants more money and is strongly hinted to be gay – although Hyacinth seems oblivious to this Richard knowingly nods in the background of occasions.
Keeping Up Appearances ran for five seasons between 1990 and 1995 producing 44 episodes which are regularly repeated on digital channels across the world. The series was a huge success and entertained millions of viewers across the country and showcased what a talented actress Patricia Routledge was. A stage version of the comedy toured around the country in 2010 with Kim Hartman, Steven Pinder, Gareth Bell, Debbie Arnold and Rachel Bell amongst the cast of the stage series.
In 1994 Clarke developed another comedy series for the BBC; Ain’t Misbehaving which starred Peter Davison and Nicola Pagett. The series revolves around the character of Clive (Davison) who believes he is happily married to Melissa (Lesley Manville) but when Sonia (Nicola Pagett) arrives and tells Clive his wife is having an affair with her husband Dave (John Duttine) he realises he isn’t in a happy marriage after all. However, while Clive and Sonja suspect their partners of cheating its revealed that actually Melissa and Dave haven’t started their affair yet. Ain’t Misbehaving ran for just two seasons between 1994 and 1995 with 12 episodes produced in the series.
While creating Open All Hours, Keeping Up Appearances and Ain’t Misbehaving Clarke still found time to write episodes of Last of the Summer Wine as the series continued to air year after year; being renewed despite cancellation rumours due to its continued popularity with audiences.
The prolific writer also found time to write Foreign Field (1993), Spark (1997), Screen One (1993), Sharp’s End (1991), The World of Eddie Weary (1990), The Magnificent Evans (1984), Potter (1979-1983 and The Growing Pains of PC Penrose (1968 – 1977) to name but a few of his other credits. There is little doubt that Roy Clarke will go down in television history as the creator of the longest running comedy series in the UK but also the creator of many treasured and popular series from Open All Hours to Last of the Summer Wine, Keeping Up Appearances to Ain’t Misbehaving.