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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Last of the Summer Wine: Part 2

Consider a TV crew, descending on a rural English village in Yorkshire, where it regularly rains (and occasionally snows) in late Spring.  Imagine the actors who played our three favorite characters—Compo, Foggy, and Norman—laying in damp grass, atop stone walls, or in thorny gorse, their feet pointed up at the sky, as they muse upon the formation of the clouds, the divine plan behind wooly pullovers, or why Compo finds Nora Batty so endlessly attractive.  Life seems to pass so peacefully in "Last of the Summer Wine;" one imagines that nowhere could be more pleasant for a TV crew to film than in Holmfirth and its environs.  One could be so very, very wrong.

A good day of the series’ production might get as much as five or ten minutes worth of completed film.  The crew would also film some of the scenes inside local buildings.  The production would then move to the studio, where other interior scenes were filmed in a more controlled environment.  Yet some locations, such as Sid’s Café, featured so much prominent window space that portions of each scene shot inside the physical location were carefully intercut with other sequences meticulously reconstructed in the studio.  Then, after the completion of studio recording, and viewing all the available footage, the decision might be made to return to Holmfirth and the surrounding towns for additional filming.  All of this for, on average, six half-hour episodes per season.

The BBC produced many sitcoms in the early seventies.  Most lasted no more than a single series.  Others, the more popular or critically-acclaimed, might last a few years longer.  But no series can boast the longevity of “Last of the Summer Wine.”  From the airing of the pilot commissioned for "Comedy Playhouse" in 1973, to the final episode shown in 2010, the series lasted an astounding thirty-seven years, and Roy Clarke penned all 295 episodes.  The writer’s mystifying brief, to write something funny about “three old men,” became a labor of love for the production teams who filmed it, and a cherished fan favorite the world over.  No other situation comedy has lasted so long, or shown senior citizens in such a positive light.  It is, in a word, unique.

The city of Holmfirth recognizes this.  People pour into this part of Yorkshire constantly.  The location the film crew converted each year into Sid’s Café has become an actual tea room called Sid’s Cafe.  Compo’s home has become the Last of the Summer Wine Exhibition, showing props and memorabilia from the show, and selling officially licensed merchandise.  One can spend the night in Nora Batty’s house, next to which is The Wrinkled Stocky Tea Room, named in honor of her famous leg coverings.  (Another tea room, not a prior film site, has named itself Compo’s).  Dozens line up for the Summer Wine bus tour, which takes fans out to various filming sites several times each day.  And practically anywhere in the town, at any time, one can expect to hear visitors talking excitedly amongst themselves about their Summer Wine experience, or asking locals their recollections of each year’s film production.

I’m one of those who loved the series enough to make the pilgrimage to this former milltown in the heart of Yorkshire.  I asked all the questions I could think of.  I ate in Sid’s Café.  I took the bus tour.  I stayed in a local hotel.  I found the locals kind and gracious and helpful.  In so doing, I came to understand all the little differences between the real Holmfirth and the fictional town created for the series.  I find myself indebted to Roy Clarke, to all those involved in making the series, and the locals who made my stay so enjoyable.  For I have become part of the show I have come to love, and it has become a part of me.

Thanks for following along,
Dragon Dave

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