I watched the first episode of Sherlock this afternoon. I invited our son to identify the actress who played Mrs. Hudson. He didn’t recognize Una Stubbs. Same as it ever was.
Anyway, this was a nice surprise: it’s the first part of a longer storyline, ending on a cliffhanger! Worzel meets a new friend in this one: the metal conductress of a Victorian-era calliope. She’s called Trudi von Crochet, played by Lee Hatherly, and unfortunately she only seems to appear in this one episode. Naturally, Aunt Sally is infuriated by her interest in Worzel. Just because she doesn’t want Worzel doesn’t mean she wants anybody else to have him either. Same as it ever was.
But remarkably, the episode ends with the Traveling Scarecrow Maker happening to be in the right place at the right time to abduct Aunt Sally. It doesn’t actually seem to be the actor Wi Kuki Kaa, who we met in the previous episode, this time, as the Maker is only seen from behind in his heavy cloak and doesn’t have any lines. But he certainly surprised the life out of me, and we’ll have to wait a few days to see what happens next. Stay tuned!
“Holy crap!” I said. “Basically scarecrow zombies!” the kid said.
I found myself not having much to say about episode four, though it was nice to see a new upper-class jerk get a taste of Worzel and Sally’s chaos, but episode five is next-level good. Worzel is having a typically goofy adventure with a little slapstick. He ends up completing a new scarecrow’s naming ceremony, and unwittingly gives the fellow the name “Dangnation Take It,” and Dangnation thinks that Worzel is his king. When the Crowman finds out, he’s not happy.
But the Crowman has other issues, which are remarkable. This episode introduces the actor Wi Kuki Kaa as the Traveling Scarecrow Maker, who uses dark magic to bring slave scarecrows to a form of half-life. They cannot talk or dance or sing, and they can only walk between dusk and dawn. They are hideous and if I had seen this program when I was six, I’d never have come near the TV again. The Crowman wants nothing to do with this guy, but he seems to only have the power to tell him to go away, nothing more. The Traveling Scarecrow Maker has designs on the Crowman’s magic, because he needs small talismans to bring his creations to half-life. This guy is fascinating and I love the massive expansion of the show’s world to bring us a very radical new challenge. That’s exactly the kick in the pants I was hoping for, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Aunt Sally seems to get her comeuppance more often in Zoo Neeland than she ever did back home. Maybe the English Crowman should’ve sent her down under years ago.
Our son completely loved this episode, especially a sequence where Worzel drives away on a motorcycle. Of course Jon Pertwee, who loved gadgets and fast cars, didn’t use a stunt double until the last possible moment. But the part that had us howling the most was when Worzel clarifies that Aunt Sally’s dress does not pong like a cow shed, it pongs like a pig sty. And he should know.
I like the Zoo Neeland Crowman. I don’t think that he quite knows what he’s gotten into, taking charge of Worzel, but he’s a quiet, intelligent fellow who’s written books on the subject of scarecrows throughout the world, and has some pretty radical theories about the Easter Island statues. Bizarrely, we learned just yesterday morning that at least one of those statues has been capable of speech for quite some time. I think a trip to Easter Island and some giant animatronic stone heads might have been a bit outside this program’s budget, but it’s amusing to consider!
This episode introduces two titchy hooman children, as expected, although Worzel still hasn’t learned to count and thinks there’s three of them. This story, interestingly, sees both Aunt Sally and Worzel getting a comeuppance in the end. Sally isn’t even remotely as evil as she usually is this week, so we’ll just call tonight’s punishment an overdue settling of old accounts.
And now back to 1987, and the other side of the world, for the first series of Worzel Gummidge Down Under. Well, that’s how it’s billed, but I’m fine with just thinking of it as six series of one program rather than four of one and two of another. Life’s too short. After Southern Television lost its franchise, the producers spent about five years nailing down a financing deal that allowed them to keep rights and control over their show, and they found that money in New Zealand. In his remarkable The Worzel Book, Stuart Manning draws a parallel to the way that seven episodes, and a bit of an eighth, of The New Avengers were made in other countries.
Actually, that’s a really good example, because the last four episodes of that show are technically The New Avengers in Canada, but nobody calls them that.
It’s so strange to think that this show was in production in 1987 and 1989, because I was tape trading then, and was curious about the show, which was very occasionally mentioned in Doctor Who Magazine, but thought of it, then, as something old, archive television instead of something that was still being made. Only Jon Pertwee and Una Stubbs continue from the original cast and there aren’t any titchy hooman kids yet. There’s a new Crowman, played by Bruce Phillips, who Worzel, beautifully, calls “Mister Zoo Neeland Crowman Sir.” The plot this time is a simple pilot for the new format: Aunt Sally gets sold to a folk history museum outside Wellington, Worzel finds his way into the plane’s cargo hold, and they have no idea where they are, except that it’s probably better than Americky and they want to go home.
The kid was in seventh heaven. He was obviously starving for some mangled wordplay and slapstick because he laughed like a hyena all through this thing. I am just a little bit skeptical how much I’m likely to love Worzel without all the great British comedians and recognizable character actors popping in, but I’m hoping the format gets bent a little and we meet some new weird friends and troublemakers. As long as our hero’s getting smacked in the head with a shovel, though, our son sees no difference in what came before.
And so we reach the last episode of Worzel Gummidge to be made in the UK, and the final appearance of most of the characters. The story, like most of series four, is slight and not very surprising, but our son found lots to giggle about. Worzel has decided that he has six birthdays, two for his legs, two for his arms, and one for his stomach, but his bestest birthday is for his head. The kids had to help him with arithmetic to figure that much out. He wants Aunt Sally to come to his bestest birthday party, and Aunt Sally wants to ruin it, and that sort of thing.
Behind the scenes, unfortunately, events were conspiring against continuing Worzel Gummidge in Britain. Southern Television lost its franchise to a network called TVS, who didn’t want to continue most of Southern’s programming. (TVS went on to produce several interesting programs for families, including the Third Eye serials Haunting of Cassie Palmer and The Witches and the Grinnygog. They later co-produced the Jim Henson programs Fraggle Rock, including the human segments with Fulton Mackay instead of Gerry Parkes, and The Storyteller, which we’re going to watch next year.) An investor bought the rights to Worzel with an eye to making series five in Ireland, but it didn’t work out, and the show remained in limbo for more than six years.
So this was the last appearance of Geoffrey Bayldon’s Crowman, along with Aunt Sally’s cranky owner, played by Michael Ripper, and the Braithwates and the Peters. It’s really the end of an era, since none of the recurring characters from the first four series will move into the next phase, but I’m curious what we’ll see next.
We’ll leave it there for now and take a break from scarecrow shenanigans. We like to mix things up to keep them fresh, and will pick back up with series five of Worzel Gummidge in February. Stay tuned!
There are certainly a few really funny moments in this story, which introduces Bernard Cribbins as a ship’s wooden masthead figure, now doing service as an advertising dummy for a fish ‘n chips shop in the village. Another familiar face is the restaurant’s propreitor: Patrick Newell, who had played Mother in the Tara King years of The Avengers. Aunt Sally gets a job behind the shop counter, and the sight of Una Stubbs cramming fistfuls of French fries into her face is pretty hilarious. Our son especially enjoyed Worzel whining to the Crowman that he’s lost his Aunt Sally and his bestest friend and his fish and chips.
But really, with this series, there’s a strong sense of repetition. Cribbins is always a joy, but Jolly Jack doesn’t really bring any more of a dynamic to the show than any of the guest stars who preceded him. Weirdly, though, there are a couple of hints that this episode might just do something really different. For starters, there are flocks and flocks of seagulls chasing the rooks and crows away. There’s a weird sense that Jolly Jack should not be this far inland; it’s as though his presence is messing with nature.
There’s also a bit where Michael Ripper’s character, Mr. Shepherd, grumbles to the shop owner that there is a very weird crime spree going on in this village. He notes that Jolly Jack is missing, just like his Aunt Sally keeps disappearing and being returned. He almost starts to connect that Worzel, who the villagers just assume is a passing tramp when they’re not ignoring him completely, may be responsible for their disappearances. They don’t go anywhere with that idea, either. By far my favorite of these installments has been “Worzel in Revolt” because it’s so unlike everything else in the show. The other five episodes have been entertaining, but they also don’t do anything we didn’t see with more spark and energy in series two or three.
A couple of weeks ago, we watched “The Return of Dolly Clothes-Peg” and I wrote about the difficulty in finding a place for a sweet and kind character in a world as mean as this. With that in mind, this is a little bit of a retread. Another Aunt Sally shows up, and she’s gentle and polite, and that just won’t do. It’s amusing, but we’ve seen most of this before.
Connie Booth plays the new Aunt Sally in town, and I enjoyed how she moves exactly like Una Stubbs, since all Aunt Sallies should be built the same way. There is a really funny scene at the beginning of the episode, when we see each from behind, before we learn that the new one is not trouble. Worzel doesn’t understand that there are two of them, and thinks that she has somehow developed the ability to go in two directions at the same time.
This was so funny our sides hurt from laughing. The Crowman decides that the way to get Worzel to stop doing whatever Aunt Sally tells him is to create a disobedient head. Unfortunately for him, it works rather better than he thought, and along the way we get some downright amazing, hilarious insults as Jon Pertwee responds to whatever she asks him by chewing her out. At one point, he threatens to take a steam roller to her, leading our son to roar at the thought of “Flat Sally.”
The other thing he really liked was what he called “an episode inside the episode.” The story is set in motion by something that happened offscreen: apparently Worzel and Sally destroyed a village tea party for the local bishop by starting a foot fight after destroying some nice French windows. I loved that they let us imagine this catastrophe; the kid’s trying to decide which of them he likes better for throwing the first cake.
Here’s a little bit of keeping it in the family. He’s not credited in the episode, and not even at IMDB, but according to Stuart Manning’s indispensable The Worzel Book, that’s Sean Pertwee as one of the silent guard scarecrows who are about to throw Worzel onto the compost heap. He was about 17 at the time and didn’t have a credited role for another six years after this.
“The Jumbly Sale” is another one with Aunt Sally being remarkably cruel and hurtful to Worzel, but her appearance in the story is pretty hilarious. Throughout the first three series, Michael Ripper’s character of Mr. Shepherd has been insisting that his aunt sally is a valuable antique, but he’s finally given up trying to sell her and is tired of her constantly moving around and ending up where she isn’t meant to be, and has donated her to the village’s charity garage sale. She gets sold to a local fellow called Gypsy Joe, “rescued” by Worzel, and, like a bad penny, ends up at Mr. Shepherd’s house again. This time, he locks her in the attic, hoping that the blasted thing can’t cause him any more trouble. Doubt that!
Many of Worzel’s problems come from him being selfish and bad-tempered, and those are usually very funny. Once in a while, we see that his naivete in the face of Aunt Sally’s awfulness leaves him hurt. There are a couple of episodes that end with our hero in tears, which is strangely sad, because we know he’s just too fixated to quit Aunt Sally.
This one’s painful for a slightly different reason: Dolly Clothes-Peg, the lovely Cockney shop-window dummy who we met last season, may be just as dopey as the rest of this world’s animated creations, but she’s sweet and kind and incredibly generous, and everything that Aunt Sally isn’t. Dolly, played again by Lorraine Chase, is so good-natured that she is even welcoming and friendly to Aunt Sally, who treated her with contempt last time. Funny how it’s the city girl who’s the sweetheart in this otherwise rural program.
Tragically, it’s Dolly who ends this episode in tears, because Worzel is just too stupid to see that Dolly Clothes-Peg offers him a much brighter and happier future than he could ever have otherwise. I’m sure it ended just fine the way it did, but I’d like to think that those titchy human kids ran after Dolly to apologize for Worzel being so downright stupid. I bet they said that they wished Worzel would marry somebody as sweet as her and not that horrible Aunt Sally, and Dolly would thank them for their kindness, because unlike some of the characters around these parts, she has good manners.
I’m not sure what more you could do with Dolly after an ending like this, but this was the character’s last appearance. It’s kind of a shame, but last time I suggested that Dolly is too sweet to be part of a love triangle with these two. Honestly, it’s not that she’s a Clothes-Peg, she’s too much of a square peg to fit in a world as mean as the one they build and knock down around themselves.