Worzel Gummidge 6.10 and 6.11

I’ve said a hundred times that one of the joys of Worzel Gummidge is that anything human-shaped can come to life. Episode eleven is set at a convent where the sisters are in need of a scarecrow to get the pigeons off their roof. The camera briefly shows us a statue of the Virgin Mary. Okay, so not that. They wouldn’t dare. Almost anything.

Anyway, these final twelve episodes were made in two batches of six a year apart. Una Stubbs was not available for the second block, so the episodes were shuffled around when shown so that Aunt Sally would not vanish halfway through. Episode ten is her final appearance, and episode eleven introduces a new female foil, a scarecrow named Wattle Hearthbrush played by Ellie Smith. Interestingly, the Zoo Nealand Crowman is unfamiliar with making female scarecrows and is unsure whether they can be given life. Back in the UK, of course, we’d seen several, including Worzel’s own mother.

Actually, I liked the episode with Wattle much more than what turned out to be Aunt Sally’s finale. The kid just about lost his mind laughing when Sally becomes part of a wacky modern artist’s latest canvas – this was twenty years since “Pop Goes the Joker” and teevee was still just going for the laziest possible shot in mocking modern art – but it didn’t break any new ground. Wattle Hearthbrush promises something new, and that’s much more interesting. And you can’t go wrong with Pertwee dressed as a nun and causing mayhem in a convent, even if the Virgin Mary stays right where she is.

Image: 45 Worlds.

Worzel Gummidge 6.8 and 6.9

Series six is definitely uneven, but the eighth and ninth episodes proved to be pretty good. “Dreams of Avarish” introduces the first new statue-comes-to-life character that we’ve seen in a while: a waxwork of a pirate who charms Aunt Sally into joining him on the high seas… or at least as far as the nearest island, where he thinks he’s buried his treasure. Weirdly, the production rented out the big calliope that we saw in “Ten Heads Are Better Than One” as part of the traveling fair, but the calliope’s character, Trudi von Crochet, doesn’t join the adventure. I think that’s a missed opportunity.

“Runaway Train” is even better. It introduces a French scarecrow, Aubergine, and gives Blighty Tater, who we met briefly in episode seven, a co-starring role with Worzel. These two bring out the absolute, hilarious worst in each other, getting into increasingly ridiculous and escalating trouble and instantly blaming the other. Not content with trying to pass themselves off as ticket collectors on a train, because they’ve somehow convinced themselves that titchy human passengers will reward them for their ticket-punching with cake and tea, they end up stealing the train and have no idea how to stop it. Our son absolutely loved watching this one build and build into chaos, likening it to “the butterfly effect.” It’s obvious that six series was just plenty for this program, but had they gone to a seventh, teaming Pertwee with Danny Mulheron for a full run of Worzel and Blighty causing havoc in tandem would probably have worked for another six or seven installments.

Image: 45 Worlds.

Worzel Gummidge 6.6 and 6.7

Well, I liked the second of these very much. It gives Jon Pertwee something very new to do as he dons a Sherlock Holmes head and costume, and he gets a one-off sidekick called Worty Yam. It also introduces Danny Mulheron, making the first of three appearances as Blighty Tater, and gives David Weatherly a second outing as Bulbous Cauliflower as the scarecrows try to deduce who stole the Crowman’s prized golden turnip trophy. The game’s afoot and it’s very silly and I laughed out loud several times.

Episode six was… less successful. It’s another example of the world suddenly not working like the real world, which is what Worzel Gummidge needs to feel right. This time, Worzel chases another scarecrow over a cliff for the sin of courtin’ Aunt Sally. Somehow he gets accused of murder for this and the police are offering a $3000 reward, which isn’t the sort of thing even small-town cops in Zoo Nealand would do if they can’t confirm there’s actually a corpse. I like that they’re building up a larger supporting cast, but they shouldn’t have done it at the cost of the show’s realism.

On the other hand, this one was so outlandish and full of slapstick that it turned out to be one of our son’s favorites in the whole run. He’s not quite viewing it through the same lens as I am. He just likes Worzel stabbing other scarecrows in the rear with pitchforks, and he is the target audience, after all.

Worzel Gummidge 6.4 and 6.5

Well, something just isn’t clicking with this series, and I don’t know what it is. These two episodes could have been made among the first four series, back in the UK. They don’t go anywhere near as off-key or strange as series five’s adventures with the evil Traveling Scarecrow Maker, or the previous two episodes’ heightened unreality. One is Aunt Sally misunderstanding something, acting posh, and causing a scene, and the other, written by Fran Walsh, introduces a new scarecrow, Bulbous Cauliflower, who appears in two episodes and is played by David Weatherley. But they both feel like there’s no energy to them. Episode four seems like a huge missed opportunity, because Aunt Sally having a mud fight with the staff of a beauty parlor should have been uproarious, and episode five does something quite new: it seems that certain toxic chemicals, like DDT, can permanently alter a scarecrow’s mind. The set pieces are too staid and too slow, a problem that hampered some of the earliest episodes. These need to be manic and raucous, and they aren’t.

Worzel Gummidge 6.1 – Stage Struck

Well, it had to happen sooner or later. I’ve had this HP laptop for years and would have retired it in January 2020, except I learned to my chagrin that certain Region 2 DVDs from Network and Fabulous are copy-protected. All the years I was plugging in my Region 2 drive and using the PowerDVD that came loaded on it, I had no idea these things were copy-protected, because the laptop just ignored it and played away. Sadly, as the darn thing got older and crankier and a lot more tired, I bought a bright and shiny new HP which, maddeningly, pays very close attention to what the labels copy protect and what they don’t.

So the old laptop sat on a little side table to make screencaps, starting up each new time like an asthmatic walrus, spinning the disk impotently for two minutes while PowerDVD decided whether or not it wanted to open. I got a little tired, as we watched series five of Worzel Gummidge, of squeezing blood from a turnip, and now, six weeks of collecting dust since the last time I started it up, I decided life is far too short to spend twenty minutes getting it to work every time for twelve more screencaps. So from now on, you get a set image from 45 Worlds.

Anyway, “Stage Struck” is a pretty interesting little relaunch. Series six would be the longest series of Worzel Gummidge yet, with twelve episodes, but they were made without Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, who had written every previous episode. So these twelve had several different writers. They were filmed in 1987-88 and shown in the UK from January through April, 1989. This one is written by Fran Walsh, who’d go on to write or co-write a whole bunch of movies that Peter Jackson has directed.

The kid thought this one was terrific, but it’s really all a buildup to one set piece. Happily, the buildup is extremely amusing, and our son was in stitches just waiting for Worzel, making one terrible decision after another for about ten minutes, to dump a big bucket of fertilizer on somebody. It’s inevitable, and they did a great job milking it. I’m not sure the payoff was as hilarious as the buildup, but that’s okay, because the buildup is just fine.