Farewell to Last of the Summer Wine
He wrote the following yesterday for an internal blog, but we thought we'd share with you his tribute to the much-loved show.
Mark Freeland writes...
If only I could write this blog on Friday afternoon, but deadlines are deadlines. That's because I am going to lunch in the Council Chamber at Broadcasting House, to mark the end of the legendary and incomparable Last Of The Summer Wine. Many of the cast will be there - Peter Sallis, June Whitfield, Burt Kwouk, Frank Thornton - and of course, writer Roy Clarke. I'd better be a bit careful, a glass of sherry too many and I won't be able to resist creeping up on Burt Kwouk, doing a bit slapstick karate and then disappearing through the floor to Mark T's office below, which somehow would then catch fire. All too risky.
I know Friday will be one of those BBC occasions that I will never forget and it will be an honour being there. Last year, I went to composer, Ronnie Hazlehurst's memorial concert in the Radio Theatre. It was one of the most special events I have attended, and when his band played the theme from Last Of The Summer Wine, it was like a last post for a lost age. Not a dry eye in the house. I suspect tomorrow will feel very sad, too, but at the same time uplifting. I see Alan Yentob is on the guest list. I am sitting here wracking my brain to remember which episode he was in. I bet he has been.
The pilot was shot in June 1972. The show started in November 1973 (some things never change). The BBC didn't like the title (some things never change) and wanted to alter it to The Library Mob. They didn't like the theme music either (some things, etc. etc.).
Lots of things have changed and come and gone since then, but not LOTSW (as I will now abbreviate). Nine Presidents of the US, eight Prime Ministers. In November 1973 Mark Phillips and Princess Anne got married. Gone. (Extraordinarily, my memory of that very day was catching a part of my body in my flies and having to be rushed off to the doctors). Petrol cost 35p. Gone. The three day week started. Hopefully gone. Interest rates were at 13%. Again, hopefully gone. I had a crush on Tessa Price from down the road. Partially gone. And at number one was Gary Glitter. Absolutely gone.
There have been a staggering 295 episodes of LOTSW, every word of which has been written by the extraordinary Roy Clarke. You would have thought that would keep him busy - take a break, have a cuppa and a Hobnob - but in his downtime, Roy wrote more comedies, such as Keeping Up Appearances and Open All Hours. All of his shows focus on a wonderful and sharply observed, yet loving, dissection of British culture. That's why they are loved shows in the UK, but also massively popular across the world. Indeed LOTSW producer, Alan JW Bell, still spends time in the US at LOTSW lectures and events. By the way, Alan produced and directed 250 episodes. Incredible.
I doubt any television programme has so defined the place in which it was made. That hotel in Torquay is gone. The offices in which The Office was shot have been stripped out and gone all open plan and high achieving. But go to beautiful Holmfirth in West Yorkshire, and not only will you see eager tourists snapping up LOTSW memorabilia, but take a tin bath and you can actually create you own Episode. It's all there - the beflowered terraces, the bridges over the twinkling Holme River. Down the pretty streets, on the breeze coming off the Pennines, you will hear the names of Foggy, Nora Batty, Compo and Clegg.
So tomorrow will be very sad. We will raise a glass to the cast members sadly not with us - legends like Thora Hird, Bill Owen, Kathy Staff and many more. We will delight in the company of others. No doubt everyone there will have their own special memories of fellow cast and crew members. 37 years of cherished times for themselves, and of course the devoted audiences across the world. We will also all pray that interest rates do not go back to 13%.
God bless Last Of The Summer Wine, and a heartfelt thank you.
Mark Freeland is Head of BBC Comedy.