Worzel Gummidge 2.8 – The Scarecrow Wedding

The second series ends in grand style, as, for the second time in a series, the Crowman calls all his creations home, this time to witness the wedding of Aunt Sally and Worzel Gummidge. He rescued her from a broken washing machine in a junk shop after she agrees that she’ll marry him if only he frees her. Then she goes back on her word until Sue points out that she’ll wear a pretty dress. Naturally, that’s the only reason she even walks down the aisle. She has no intention of marrying him; she only wanted to have a photographer take her picture in a pretty dress. But a scarecrow does get married, and then there is cake. Everywhere.

The episode brings back three of the new characters introduced in this series: Saucy Nancy, Pickles, and Sgt. Beetroot, and introduces two new scarecrows. Cobber Gummidge is Worzel’s cousin from Australy, played by Australian actor Alex Scott, and Soggy Boggart, who has been mentioned several times in passing and finally appears in person. Soggy is played by Talfryn Thomas, who we’ve seen in a hundred things, but they may as well have just hired one more extra, because Thomas’s lines were all cut for time. I particularly liked how everybody in attendance knows perfectly well that Pickles is going to cause trouble with his slingshot, and just kicks him in the rear whenever his back’s turned.

Interestingly, the Crowman is very specific that he did not create Aunt Sally. In her first appearance, Aunt Sally explains that the Crowman taught her how to walk and talk, but apparently somebody else is responsible for her. I should have realized. The Crowman is far too wonderful to have created anybody as ghastly as her!

That’s all for the second series of Worzel Gummidge. We like to put shows back on the shelf to keep them fresh, and we’ll look at the third series in July. Stay tuned!

Worzel Gummidge 2.7 – Fire Drill

Joan Sims’ final appearance in this series doesn’t see her going out with a bang. I think they should have changed the running order and shown this one prior to “Very Good Worzel”. That way we could assume that the poor woman was so scandalized by her luncheon being destroyed that she left town, never to be seen again. Here, she’s just pushy, and bulldozes her way into insisting that a charity bonfire is held on her property, and the plot moves on without her.

Worzel and the kids need to work quickly and build a new scarecrow, because the grownups need a Guy Fawkes for the fire and decide Worzel will do. But they hadn’t realized that Worzel, as a creation of the Crowman, has inherited his creator’s power to animate whatever he creates. The result is something they call Dafthead, and it kind of goes back to what I was saying a few chapters previously about how this series might well have scared the pants off very small children. Dafthead is a hideous thing, and it’s only right before he opens his eyes that the camera reveals that it’s a costume rather than a prop. John and Sue, who have been left alone in the barn with it, react with screams and run for their lives. I bet if we’d started our son with this series along with H.R. Pufnstuf and Thunderbirds, he’d have joined them.

Worzel Gummidge 2.4 – The Trial of Worzel Gummidge

You occasionally run into mentions of Worzel Gummidge in nostalgia blogs or contemporary media talking about how children of the early eighties must have found it absolutely terrifying. My response has typically been to wonder what these snowflakes are smoking, because you’ll read somebody writing with alarm about Worzel would pull off one of his heads and replace it with another one, when what you see is Jon Pertwee engaging in some silly slapstick.

But then I remind myself that very small children really might find that horrifying. The difference between a nine year-old guffawing at the physical comedy of this show and a four year-old who doesn’t understand it yet is vast. Our favorite nine year-old critic, when he was a four year-old critic, was left in tears by the antics of some remarkably nonthreatening – to older kids or adults – TV villains like Witchiepoo or Benita Bizarre. So who knows, maybe ol’ Worzel did leave the four year-olds of Britain wetting their pants with fright.

Then we come to “The Trial of Worzel Gummidge,” which introduces Bill Maynard as another recurring character, Sgt. Beetroot, and the Crowman calls several of his creations to come in to serve as jury after Worzel knocks off the Crowman’s hat with a potato launched from a massive slingshot. The scarecrows lurching across the fields are shot just like they were in a horror film, threatening and eerie in precisely the way that Doctor Who‘s scarecrows from “Human Nature” aren’t.

And even if there were any four year-olds watching who weren’t left in tears by Worzel and all his head-removing antics, the whole show is the fun hero trapped in a dark barn with a mean man, a mean sergeant, the remarkably mean Aunt Sally, and twelve hideous, dirty shambling inhuman shapes with mud-covered faces threatening to throw the fun hero on a compost heap and not letting him go home. All told, I’m glad we’re watching this show now and not in 2015. Fun now, nightmare fuel earlier.

Worzel Gummidge 2.2 – Worzel’s Nephew

I guess it’s a pretty good thing that we watch an episode of The Bugaloos every couple of weeks. Hmmm, that reminds me, we’re due, aren’t we? Anyway, in each episode, Wayne Laryea introduced the audiences of 1970, and 2020, to Cockney rhyming slang. That put our son one step ahead when we meet Worzel’s utterly horrible nephew from London, where he works as an “urban pigeon scarer.” Pickles Brambles speaks a lot more quickly than the actors who played Bugaloos did, and with a lot more rhymes, so it’s a bit harder for us to catch it all, but I do love it when he accepts Mrs. Braithwaite’s hospitality and requests a pot of Christopher Lee and a slice of Veronica Lake.

But yes, Pickles is horrible, and he doesn’t quite get the comeuppance that he should. In fairness, Worzel doesn’t act like a very good uncle when he treats his nephew like a four year-old instead of a young teenager. Since this was filmed in 1979, you can imagine Pickles listening to Sham 69 and the Banshees and rolling his eyes at these slow squares in the country. He claims he’s taking a holiday, but he’s a troublemaker with a slingshot – and seriously, given a slingshot, who could resist shooting Joan Sims in the rear? – and he probably ran from London after breaking too many windows. Even the Crowman is less than impressed with this creation. There’s some great slapstick, and our kid laughed a lot, but I’m very glad the little creep wasn’t used much more after this appearance.

Worzel Gummidge 1.7 – The Scarecrow Hop

The first series of Worzel Gummidge ends with an episode that’s far less riotous than most of the others. The final moments are really contemplative and evocative, but the big show-stopping dance number is more whimsical than silly. It’s set the day after that remarkable food fight, and begins with Aunt Sally getting sacked, with neither wages nor a reference of course, and having no place to go but Worzel’s old barn. She agrees to attend the village dance with Worzel, and even enjoys herself in the end, once the band plays a tune that Worzel’s dancing head can recognize. But any future that the couple may have is stymied by her owner. Michael Ripper’s character, Mr. Shepherd, finds and reclaims his lost property.

But in the end, Jon Pertwee and Geoffrey Bayldon share an wonderful scene where the Crowman quietly implies that he understands the “magic kingdoms” in the heads of scarecrows and aunt sallies, and that Worzel’s beloved will be much happier in Mr. Shepherd’s attic, where she can quietly daydream of foreign lands and dukes and princes, just like Worzel will be much happier in Ten Acre Field, where he can daydream of rooks and fledglings. There are times, watching this show, where I would like to spend just a few minutes talking with the Crowman about the night sky.

The silliest thing happened next. I was so taken by Pertwee and Bayldon’s scene that I remembered that we don’t often get opportunities to see the same two actors sharing scenes, so I popped in The House That Dripped Blood, which we watched, in part, a couple of years ago, and skipped to Pertwee and Bayldon’s scene in it. Our son said “I know that older man is the Crowman, and the actor playing the actor is one of the Doctors.” “He’s also Worzel,” I said, hoping those last two synapses would click, but they didn’t. “I know I’ve told you that Doctor played Worzel,” I said, disbelieving, and Marie agreed that I had, several times, but Pertwee’s transformation was so complete that our kid, who admittedly has no eye for faces in the first place, couldn’t tell that they were the same man less than four minutes apart. At least he was a little impressed by his chameleon powers. Wait until he’s old enough to start watching Robert de Niro movies.

We’ll put Worzel Gummidge back on the shelf for a few weeks to keep things fresh, but we’ll return for series two in May. Stay tuned!

Worzel Gummidge 1.4 – The Crowman

We haven’t seen Geoffrey Bayldon’s character of the Crowman since episode one. I really, really like him. That’s in part because it’s impossible to dislike Bayldon, period, sure, but I like the quiet, simple magic that surrounds him. There’s a lovely moment where the children quiz him about whether he made Worzel Gummidge, and whether scarecrows can walk and talk, and the Crowman replies with an absolutely perfect and gentle explanation about how scarecrows do come to life, but only after the world is asleep, and by the light of the moon.

When the Crowman later does a patch job on Worzel’s left arm, which has become infested with field mice, he gently but firmly chastises his creation for being seen walking and talking, and listens to him blubber about wanting a wife so that somebody will bring him a cup o’ tea and a slice o’ cake. There’s so much life in the Crowman that you can easily imagine an episode that follows him around repairing all his other creations and listening to all their tales of woe. We actually meet the first of these other scarecrows this time, although the character is not named and the actress is not credited. This female scarecrow is really, really uninterested in Worzel’s proposal, and when he presses her, she responds with violence and a manic, shrieking laugh. “She’s a witch!” our son shouted in alarm. Well, that would have been a plot twist!

Fortunately for our kid, the rest of the episode was far less alarming. That snob, Mrs. Bloomsbury-Barton, insists that the Crowman make a “decorative” scarecrow for her front lawn, and Worzel meets him there to swap one of his heads for a new, allegedly handsome head. A few misunderstandings later and Worzel enters for tea, wearing this utterly ghoulish head with a pencil mustache, waxed-down hair and oversized teeth, and things explode and furniture gets kicked over, and while it was all very funny, it was probably the sight of that hideous head that brought the biggest laugh. I thought about giving you a capture of it, but I’d rather not spoil the gag.

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.

Worzel Gummidge 3.9 – A Cup o’ Tea and a Slice o’ Cake

Back when I first started scheming and plotting and planning this blog, I hoped that some good soul would restore, remaster, and rerelease Worzel Gummidge, the anarchic and hilarious children’s comedy starring Jon Pertwee as a troublemaking scarecrow. I wrote about it in this 2017 post after reading Stuart Manning’s thunderously good book about the show. The dual problems were the cost of the out-of-print set and what are said to be some very substandard prints.

Several months ago, many people crossed their fingers after Manning shared the news that a complete set of the negatives of all 31 episodes had been located. Time crawled, and then in late September, Fabulous announced a one-off release of the program’s Christmas special, remastered from the newly found prints. Originally shown in December 1980, one week after the third series concluded, it’s a double-length story with musical numbers, guest stars, and surprisingly few good gags.

I’m not sure which has been the greater disappointment: the subsequent announcement – actually more of an “understanding” than an “announcement” – that the rights owners decided against the expense of remastering the other 30 installments, or that “A Cup o’ Tea and a Slice o’ Cake” was so dry that I only chuckled about three times. I was dying inside because I just knew that our son was not enjoying this.

And I was wrong!

He didn’t guffaw like he normally does, but while some of the songs left him restless, he otherwise enjoyed this nonsense quite a lot. The only part that left him really cold was Billy Connolly’s appearance as Bogle McNeep, leader of a crew of Scottish scarecrows with pine cone noses, and that’s because he couldn’t understand a single thing that Connolly said. To be fair, only about 70% of it landed with me as well. I learned what Hogmanay is today, anyhow!

There’s a lot in this episode that should have worked. Several recurring players, including Michael Ripper, Thorley Walters, Wayne Norman, Bill Maynard, and in her fourth and final appearance as Saucy Nancy, Barbara Windsor, have small appearances. But even Saucy Nancy’s big pantomime musical number, with cardboard cutouts of pirates coming to life, was not particularly funny to me. Even my favorite line from the episode, when Worzel declines to put on his Sherlock Holmes head, sailed past Marie because she hadn’t yet got a grip on Worzel’s comedy West Country accent.

But our son was pleased enough that when I grumbled that this wasn’t half as funny as the episodes that I’d seen before, he said “Then I definitely want to see them, because this was hilarious!” I did warn him that the visuals won’t be any good, but we did just successfully struggle through those lousy prints of The Hardy Boys’ third season. The new, unremastered set is £30 cheaper than the previous one, so I’ll pick it up and it will join the rotation a few months down the line.

Doctor Who: The Creature From the Pit (parts three and four)

Last night, before we learned that the gigantic green blob in the pit was an imprisoned alien ambassador and thought it was a hideous monster, our son suggested that once K9 zapped the creature they could use its body for a bouncy house. His mother had a simpler observation: “They thought a scrotum monster was a good idea?”

It’s certainly true that when Doctor Who‘s special effects hit this kind of rock bottom, they overwhelm any and all possible other topics of conversation. But I will say that if you can either ignore or just laugh about this amazing lapse of judgement, taste, and common sense, this story really has lots of very funny moments as well as Geoffrey Bayldon being incredibly entertaining. I laughed out loud several times, at the right moments. I spent most of the eighties pretending that 74,384,338 was my lucky number as well. Our son enjoyed this one, too. It was neither creepy nor scary, he confirms. It’s just a simple, straightforward adventure with nothing truly horrifying. Perhaps one day he’ll revisit the earlier Tom Baker adventures that frightened the life out of him, but he’s clearly much happier with this end of the shock scale.

The story also has Myra Frances going deep in search of the most ridiculous pantomime villain trophy and she’s kind of awful to watch as she sneers and snarls, but in fairness to the actress, when the script includes such bad guy chestnuts as “Have a care, Doctor!” then it’s kind of hard for any performer to be subtle. Francis is about to have some real competition in this category. Lewis Fiander and Graham Crowden are right around the corner. Stay tuned!

Doctor Who: The Creature From the Pit (parts one and two)

I’ll tell you how to make sure the seven year-olds in the audience boo and hiss your villainy. Slap Romana in the face and order your guards to break K9 down into scrap. We’re watching the much-maligned “The Creature From the Pit,” written by David Fisher and directed by Christopher Barry, and the main bad guy is a Snidely Whiplash type called Lady Adrasta, played by Myra Frances. She’s a pure pantomime villain, one of many reasons this story isn’t very highly regarded, and our son just loathes her. Team her up with Count Grendel from “The Androids of Tara” and I’m not sure which of them will nya-ha-ha-ha! the loudest.

No, among the DR WHO IS SRS BSNSS crowd, “Creature” is one of those stories that makes people spit fire because they hate it so much. A big problem is the creature itself – more about that next time – but Adrasta’s comedy villainy doesn’t help, and a gang of very stupid bandits really is the limit. I’ve read people grumble that the bandits are played for laughs but they aren’t funny. No, they’re played for laughs among seven year-olds, which makes them very funny to that audience, although not really anybody older than that. Add in Tom Baker looking like he’s having a great time being silly and having fun at the expense of the drama, and some very Douglas Adams comedy about the Doctor reading Beatrix Potter and teaching himself Tibetan and you’ve got a story that isn’t serious in the slightest, but it’s mostly very fun to watch.

Helping matters: down in the pit eking out a meager existence while hiding from the mysterious creature, it’s our old pal Geoffrey Bayldon in the role of an astrologer who got on the villain’s bad side some time previously. It took a gentle prod, but our son did recognize who Bayldon was. “…Catweazle?” he asked, and I cheered inside. Marie’s pretty lousy recognizing actors as well. “Even I knew who that was,” she smiled.

This leads me to a fingers crossed moment. “The Creature From the Pit” was taped shortly after the first series of Worzel Gummidge was made. Bayldon co-starred with Jon Pertwee in this completely wonderful and anarchic comedy. The show has been released on DVD, but I’ve never read a good word about the quality of the film prints, so I decided against buying it, hoping against hope that the show might be restored and rereleased before our son gets too old to care. (The beat-up old VHS boots I had in the mid-nineties were bad enough!) Well, last week, we got a hesitant step toward that pipe dream: a complete set of negatives for all thirty of the British-made episodes was discovered. We’re hoping for more information soon!