Judge Josh Rode would like to dedicate this review to Bill Owen (d. 1999), Brian Wilde (d. 2008), and Kathy Staff (d. 2008).
I suppose you can't live sensibly all your life.
Created by the legendary Roy Clarke (Keeping Up Appearances), Last of the Summer Wine is the longest-running situation comedy in history. As might be expected, the cast has gone through several transformations since its start in 1973, but there has been enough cohesion to keep it recognizable.
Facts of the Case
The 1991 season represented a hearken back to the show's prime years. Brian Wilde (Porrige) had just returned the year before to reprise his role as ex-special forces bumbler Foggy after taking a five-year break. Foggy, the easygoing Clegg (Peter Sallis, whose voice will be immediately familiar to any fan of Wallace and Gromit), and the unstable Compo (Bill Owen, Laughterhouse) picked up where they left off, which is the town of Holmfirth, Yorkshire. They spend their retirement wandering the town looking for a pint and generally getting into trouble.
Last of the Summer Wine: Vintage 1991 is comprised of six episodes and the 1991 Christmas Special.
• "Quick, Quick, Slow"—A jealous Compo is
convinced that Nora Batty's new lodger, the ironically-named Smiler, is making
moves on his beloved.
It's hard to define exactly what makes Last of the Summer Wine so successful. Each episode is, after all, virtually the same as the others. Clegg, Foggy, and Compo wander about town, stopping for the occasional pint or bit of tea; while discussing money, love, and ways to make their lives easier. This last usually involves an invention or idea by Foggy that puts Compo's life in mortal peril. Most shows could squeeze a few episodes out of such a simple premise, but this one has been going on for over thirty years.
The show's biggest strength lies in its utterly charming characters, played by equally charming actors. Although one wouldn't necessarily want to spend hours of alone time with Foggy and his incessant war stories, nor with Compo and his unpredictable mood swings, the three characters together balance each other out perfectly. When Foggy starts one of his stories, he is quickly shut down. But the others will always be there for him when he comes up with one of his ill-conceived plans. When Compo starts falling over the edge, the others are there to drag him back, and they are always willing to do what they can to help alleviate his concerns.
Clegg is the true key to the show. He is seldom the one getting into trouble; whatever harebrained scheme Foggy comes up with or whatever illogical thing Compo decides to do, Clegg just goes along with it. He is clearly having a great time, no matter the situation. In a sense, Clegg is the portal from which the viewer gains entry to the show's world. Although it is careful not to make any one of the guys the leader (and Clegg himself would want no part of the responsibility of such a position), the show feels like it is from Clegg's point of view. Just like Clegg, the audience is an amused co-conspirator, along just to revel in the ridiculousness that ensues from the others' foibles.
So, I suppose the true power of Last of the Summer Wine: Vintage 1991 is that it shows you a life you could see yourself living in a place that is utterly real. When I retire, I can only hope my days are filled with half as much energy and laughter.
The show looks as good as a full-screen presentation from 1991 can. Colors are generally bland, stemming mostly from the neutral colors that nearly everyone wears. When bright colors make an occasional appearance (such as Compo's yellow and red courier uniform), they pop all the more for the contrast. The mono soundtrack is more than adequate for a show that relies on talk. If you are having trouble picking up some of the British slang, you might consider turning on the subtitles, which are clear but sometimes flip by a touch too fast. There are, sadly, no extras.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While the lead acting is outstanding, some of the acting for the secondary characters is not on the same level. Of special note in this category are Howard and his mistress Marina, who have a reoccurring bit where they wear disguises or try to find out-of-the-way places so they can snog without being seen. They are as distracting as one of those mosquitoes you can hear buzzing near your ear but can never see.
Further, none of the characters have a tremendous amount of depth. Even the main protagonists have only basic personalities, with just a couple of unique quirks. This works for the show, in that it enhances the timeless feel that the somewhat generic-feeling town already emphasizes. This isn't a chronological recording of events; you could watch a show from 1991 and then one from 1975, and it would feel like two days from the same week. This is either a strength or a weakness, depending on how you view it.
If you think wandering about town, stopping for the occasional pint or spot of tea, with a couple of friends sounds like a nice way to spend a day, you will probably like Last of the Summer Wine: Vintage 1991. If, on the other hand, that sounds staggeringly boring…well, give it a try anyway. You might be surprised.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
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