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 2.6 – Worzel in the Limelight

Some characters become a little softer over repeated appearances. That’s the case with Aunt Sally, who debuted, as I said a couple of months ago, as just about the most selfish and rude character in TV history, but evolved to become less abrasive. She’s mischievous and chaotic, and doesn’t have a splinter of empathy for anybody else, but she hasn’t been portrayed as downright cruel as she was in that first appearance. I wondered whether I was remembering her wrong. (I’m thinking in particular of one of the few episodes that I saw once upon a time in the tape trading days, “Dolly Clothes Peg,” which we will get to later in the summer, if I remember rightly.)

But this time… Aunt Sally is her usual mean self, planning to steal part of Worzel’s winnings from a talent competition and offering suggestions for their act like “saw the scarecrow in half,” and it’s all very funny until the end. In the end, she’s just a monster again, betraying Worzel and stomping his heart flat. It’s weird how I can laugh about her cheating him out of £2 as just part of her fun teevee villainy, but when Worzel entrusts her with his remaining £3, it’s stops being funny. She betrays that trust in the time it takes to cross the street.

The look on Jon Pertwee’s face is so devastatingly sad that I’m telling you, every other villain on TV sat down with the hero and said Aunt Sally was out of line. Even Lex Luthor handed over his kryptonite and said “I just can’t do it to you, man.” She’s that evil.

Worzel Gummidge 2.5 – Very Good Worzel

Joan Sims’ character of Mrs. Bloomsbury-Barton, as I’ve mentioned before, is an awful, awful person. Simultaneously cheap and desperate to climb the social ladder, everybody sees through her, even the well-meaning owner of an employment agency. This time, she’s managed to get a few important people together for a small luncheon so that she’ll appear grand, and she needs a butler and an additional chambermaid for one day to pose as longtime servants.

Of course, there’s a terrible mix-up and Worzel and Aunt Sally arrive to fill the positions. Comedy legend John Le Mesurier shows up too late for the posting. The mayhem has already begun. Now you’d think that Mrs. Bloomsbury-Barton is going to get what’s coming to her, but she doesn’t. What she gets is a thousand times worse. Between Worzel locking people in the coal cellar and cleaning out soup bowls with live animals and Aunt Sally taking a break from eating all the food to just offer snacks to people by the handful, I actually felt sorry for the poor terrible woman. But not for long.

Our son’s sides nearly split. He hasn’t laughed this hard in at least a day.

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 2.3 – A Fishy Tale

This one was fun for all the mistaken identity nonsense piling atop each other, helped in a big way by Worzel having no idea what household appliances are. Mrs. Bloomsbury-Barton’s maid mistakes Worzel for a handyman, and he misunderstands her request for Worzel to look at the dishwasher as an invitation to sit in the drawing room and enjoy the sight of the fishwasher for a minute or three. From there, chaos erupts, and it’s wonderful.

Mrs. Bloomsbury-Barton is the hilariously horrible character played by Joan Sims, and she’s constantly looking down on her maid, who is, in turn, very much aware that her employer is a cheap and wretched person more concerned with appearances than anything else. So there are battle lines drawn on the class divide, but I think there’s also something about Enid coming from someplace where she learned the “wrong” way to say things, using regionalisms and slang instead of propah grammah. Seeing the old windbag get her comeuppance every time is delightful – a tin of worms has her screaming, for some reason – but she really isn’t much of a challenge for ol’ Worzel, is she?

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 2.1 – Worzel & the Saucy Nancy

And now back to 1980, and a lovely day by the seesaw. Worzel Gummidge started his second series by stowing away in the back of a bus carrying two dozen old folks taking a day trip to the Devon coastline and eating all twenty-four of their picnic lunches. I’m always fascinated by the little cultural differences between our countries. The trip included a portion of tobacco for all the gentlemen. Worzel says that it tastes terrible, but his new ladyfriend explains that she smokes it in her pipe.

Barbara Windsor plays Saucy Nancy, the masthead of a replica ship which you can tour for 10p. A sign beside it explains that it’s the same ship that had been used for filming in ITC’s action series The Buccaneers. It’s the Golden Hind, docked as a living history museum in Brixham, and the price has gone up to £7.00 today. Windsor is freaking hilarious as Saucy Nancy. We saw her briefly in the Christmas Special, which aired later in 1980, but didn’t really get the chance to understand who she is. Saucy Nancy was also created by the Crowman and has wheels rather than legs, and when her inevitable war with Aunt Sally reaches its peak, Aunt Sally gives her a shove downhill and I think the kiddo fell into several pieces laughing.

Incidentally, the direction and editing of this mayhem is much, much better and faster than what we saw in the first series. At one point, Worzel, Sally, and Nancy are being chased around Brixham by the crowd of old folks, the fairground crew, and a guy from a food truck played by Roy Evans, and they found a great location for the multiple mobs to converge. Nancy’s rollercoaster ride to the ocean is also cut really fast – and Windsor looks terrified as she rockets downhill in that big wooden dress – and it ends with a predictable but wonderful splash. It was gloriously ridiculous, we laughed like hyenas, and I’m glad we’re spending the next couple o’ weeks in the comp’ny of our old pal Worzel.

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 1.6 – Worzel Pays a Visit

It’s the one with the food fight. I wondered whether I would lose consciousness laughing before our son. It’s epic.

There’s so much in the comedy of anticipation. The setup is completely wonderful: Aunt Sally has found employment as a housemaid to the local penny-pinching snob, Mrs. Bloomsbury-Barton. Sue has told Worzel where she can be found, over the objections of her brother. This scene also had me roaring with laughter, because I’d seen our son’s older siblings have arguments exactly like that, carrying on silently when I told them to hush.

But because Aunt Sally is a very proud liar, and because Worzel happens to come a’courtin’ while Mrs. Bloomsbury-Barton is engaged in some social climbing at another area snob’s invitation, she passes herself off as the owner of the estate. She says that she does not remember Worzel, because she ’as so many friends, and Mrs. Bloomsbury-Barton is her companion, not employer. But she chooses to entertain “Mr. Gummidge,” despite “staff problems” requiring her to do the serving, and she brings out more freaking cakes for tea than any two people could possibly eat. The more food that she brings out, the more hilarious it gets. It gets even funnier as it becomes evident that neither Worzel nor Sally can count, and Una Stubbs almost breaks down laughing herself as she explains that six is more than seven. And then they become cross with each other.

I don’t want to oversell it, just in case anybody reading this is thinking about ordering this series and expecting something on the level of the pie fight in The Great Race. No, it’s more contained than that, but still a majestic single-take wonder with cakes and eggs and sugar and buckets of water, all the while knowing, absolutely knowing that Mrs. Bloomsbury-Barton is going to return much earlier than expected. It was already the funniest thing ever, and then we learn that Mrs. Bloomsbury-Barton doesn’t have just a pack, she has a whole freaking army of little yipping dogs, and a shotgun. Everybody involved deserves a standing ovation.