Worzel Gummidge 1.1 – Worzel’s Washing Day

This afternoon, we sat down to watch the first episode of the completely ridiculous and delightful Worzel Gummidge. I’m not entirely satisfied with the presentation: Fabulous had ponied up for an excellent remastering of the Christmas special, shown in 1980, and we watched that for the holiday season. But nobody could compromise on a good price for remastering the remaining thirty episodes of the original run and the 22 made in New Zealand six years later. Fabulous went ahead with their release – all 53 episodes in a nicely-priced package.

The film quality is better than I had feared, but these are nevertheless pretty beat-up prints, full of spots and artifacts and cigarette ash. Worzel Gummidge was made by Southern Television on 16mm film – no videotaped interiors here – and they show their age, but I’ve sampled a few and they’re more watchable than some other things we’ve watched through squinted eyes.

So if you’ve missed the previous posts about this program, Worzel Gummidge is a scarecrow played by Jon Pertwee who cannot stay out of trouble, especially now that there are two new kids in the village that he can use as an excuse to get into trouble. Any adults just figure that Worzel’s a homeless tramp, but no, he’s made of straw, has forgotten how to sit down – if he ever knew – and he has a small robin living in his stomach that he occasionally uses as a hankerchief.

Our son loved it, and so did I. It’s a far sillier and stranger half hour than the music-filled Christmas show, and when Worzel confounds the children with his hairbrained logic, it’s the greatest thing ever. The kid was also pleased to see that young John reads The Beano, and while he chuckled throughout, the closing credits gag of Worzel falling over backward slayed him. Marie was most impressed by how amazingly uncomfortable Pertwee must have been in one scene with his face and eyes caked in mud with the rain slowly spattering away the grime.

And if ever any evidence was needed that kids’ TV was radically different forty years ago, this episode begins with a boy taking a leak behind a hedge and ends with two children running through the village’s garbage dump. Nothing like this has ever happened on Nickelodeon.

It’s a good show with a great start. It’s full of quiet country weirdness, the constant background cacaphony of crows, a dad who conducts all his private business in the village pub, roads that all loop around and around so city folk are guaranteed to get lost, and incredible shenanigans quietly sulking in Ten Acre Field. Those children are going to get Worzel in so much trouble, and he’ll find every excuse in the world to blame them.

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