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 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 1.3 – Aunt Sally

Another new character is introduced this week. She’s played by Joan Sims and is called Mrs. Bloomsbury-Barton, and with a name like that she’s just asking for it in this show. Worzel confronts her in a country lane, looking for somebody to take his place on the scarecrow post for the afternoon. But Sims, a great comedy actress with a long list of credits, is really left in the dust by this episode’s other new addition.

Part of the joy in Worzel Gummidge is that the title character is really remarkably selfish and rude, but the show finds terrific comedy in this, in part because Worzel is a little too dense to realize that his selfishness could be hurtful. But then there’s Aunt Sally, who might very well be the most breathtakingly selfish and rude character in television history. Aunt Sally is played by Una Stubbs, who probably had to have a long bath at the end of every shoot just to wash all the awfulness from her.

Aunt Sally is a living aunt sally – a fairground attraction that guests threw heavy balls at to knock over – and Worzel falls helplessly in love with her as soon as he hears that she exists. And Aunt Sally sees this weakness instantly and exploits it. A really good TV villain can be counted on to take advantage of our heroes’ good qualities, but in the world of children’s television, there aren’t any so astonishingly ruthless as Aunt Sally. I mean, the instant Worzel admits that the word “bonfire” frightens him, Aunt Sally fixes him with the evillest eyes on the planet and silently mouths the word in his face. Witchiepoo, Benita Bizarre, and Hoo Doo are lined up outside the fairground tent to get her autograph. Worzel literally ends the episode in tears because she’s destroyed his straw heart. It’s all fun and games until a scarecrow cries.

I can’t wait to see what she’ll do next.

Worzel Gummidge 1.2 – A Home Fit for Scarecrows

Well, unfortunately this does have a song in it. I thought that all the music in the Christmas special was as much as we’d be subjected to, but this episode introduces us to the first of Worzel’s spare heads. His singing head sings us the explanation of how to speak Worzelese, which is a little similar to how American kids in the seventies learned to speak Ubbi-Dubbi from the PBS series Zoom, but with a couple of extra rules. “Worzel’s Song” was released as a single on Decca in 1980 and made it to # 33 in the charts.

It’s only a small part this week, but this episode introduces us to one of the villagers who will be driven to distraction by the chaos in Worzel’s wake. It’s Mr. Shepherd, played by that fine character actor Michael Ripper, and I believe that he’s in several episodes. It also introduces us to Worzel’s hairbrush, which is a live hedgehog. The kid enjoyed this whole story, but that was his favorite gag by a mile.

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.

Adam Adamant Lives! 1.16 – D for Destruction

In case you missed last time we watched an episode: if any readers have been disappointed or annoyed by the lack of photos to accompany these posts, I’ve got great news. The fab site Archive TV Musings has been writing about Adam Adamant Lives! with screencaps. So pop over there and enjoy his much longer posts and tell ’em that we sent you!

And speaking of great news, “D for Destruction” was lost for many years, one of the many victims of the BBC’s junking of old programs. A copy turned up in 2003, and while the picture quality is clearly not as good as the previous episodes we’ve enjoyed, it looks no worse than a VHS release might have looked in the mid-nineties. It’s so surprising that we should watch this relatively recent discovery today, because earlier this afternoon, the great people at Network confirmed a rumor we’ve been hearing, that two lost episodes of the sixties sitcom The Likely Lads (which co-starred Rodney Bewes, who we saw this month in “Resurrection of the Daleks“) have been recovered and will be released as bonus features on a new Blu-Ray release of the Likely Lads feature film.

When they announced Tony Williamson’s “D for Destruction” had been found, my interest in old TV was pretty low, and my stupidly large and cumbersome VHS collection was being whittled away in a series of moves from one suburb to another to another anyway. But once upon a time, that “M for Missing” in my old episode guide notebook was a real sore point because I’d read that Patrick Troughton was in this one. As it turns out, it’s a very small part, basically the Ministry Twit of the Week, only he’s a general, so it’s a Military Twit of the Week instead. Michael Sheard is also here, in an even smaller part, because the most important characters are played by Iain Cuthbertson and Michael Ripper.

The story’s about some strange goings-on and an unusual number of accidents in Adam’s old yeomanry regiment, the 51st. Since the army never actually cancelled his commission (is that the right term?) after he went missing in 1902, Colonel Adamant is asked to return to service and investigate. It’s a pretty good story, but it took our son a little work to understand what was happening. He was very restless at first, but a great scene where one of the corrupted soldiers corners Adam in the firing range got him sitting up straight and paying really close attention. There’s an even more action-packed finale than usual – and how Gerald Harper kept from dislocating his jaw when he low-tackles a guy on a concrete floor I have no idea – and it ends with a tremendously good gag about Georgie answering the phone and getting a big surprise. The audience was in on the joke: the criminals had just made their demands to Number 10, Downing Street.

“D for Destruction” was the last episode of the first series, but there was virtually no break behind the scenes at all as the production team began work on the next thirteen episodes. The show was only off the air for about two months before the new run started. Unfortunately, only two of these thirteen survive, but we’ll check one of them out later this weekend.

(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 4 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the link to purchase it from Amazon UK.)

Freewheelers 6.13 – Pay Off

Oh, good. Buchan figured it out like I was hoping last time. After the first storyline ended through luck and betrayal instead of any actual work on the heroes’ part, I was a little worried.

This one has a pretty terrific finale, full of fistfights and gunplay and a visit from both a naval helicopter and some stock footage of a couple of destroyers. Our son was really pleased with this adventure and all the excitement. I was very glad that he enjoyed it so much.

Unfortunately, as I wrote a few weeks ago, this is the only Freewheelers story available at present. This would be the final appearances for Colonel Buchan, Ryan, and Burke, and the last for Sue for a while. Series seven, shown in the fall of 1972, featured Mike and Steve along with a new character played by Caroline Ellis getting involved in a couple of adventures. In the fall of 1973, series eight featured just Sue, along with a new character played by Martin Neil, in a thirteen-week story.

It ended there after 104 episodes, which is an insanely high number for a British show from this period. The last two seasons were repeated on a satellite channel in the nineties, from which some bootlegs made their way around. Some wiseguy even got a listing on Amazon UK for his DVD-R boots of these episodes. I confess that I was tempted, but decided to hope that one day they’ll get a legitimate release. Fingers crossed!

Freewheelers 6.12 – Red Herring

Caine’s plan is devious, I’ll admit, but I’m not all that sure I’m ready to agree that it’s plausible. Having replaced the lug nuts and muffler and other parts of Buchan’s Lotus with painted gold, he arranges for Buchan to be recalled to England, where customs officers search the car. They’re not immediately ready to believe that he’s from MI-5 and they find the gold.

So what Caine wants to do, while actually moving the gold by boat, is convince Buchan that they’re scheming to smuggle it out £60,000 at a time on one hundred cars. I’m hopeful that Buchan won’t fall for this. Surely he’s going to realize that somebody tipped off customs, right? If they accidentally and randomly pulled him over, then it’s possible that they stumbled on the scheme, but the tip-off obviously means that Caine wants Buchan to think this is the real plan, meaning it’s a red herring. But will Buchan figure it out? The answers in the (hopefully) exciting conclusion, next time…

Freewheelers 6.11 – The Race

So all the action moves over to Amsterdam, and a windmill near the town of Weesp where Caine has holed up. Interestingly, Leonard Gregory didn’t get to come on location with everybody else.

For people who enjoy looking at the way British television used to be made, there’s a very curious little scene here in which Colonel Buchan discusses the criminals with Captain Rylandt of the Amsterdam police. As you often see with British TV from the seventies, the show is made with the exteriors shot on 16mm film, and the interiors done in the studio on videotape. Rylandt’s office is filmed, therefore it appears to have been shot in the Netherlands with the other material.

But Marie said that a couple of things about it clued her in to the likelihood that this wasn’t filmed abroad. There are two posters for the Rijksmuseum in Rylandt’s office, which struck her as being a lot like the captain’s office in an episode of Law & Order having a couple of posters of the Statue of Liberty. She also said that the actor’s accent wasn’t right. She was correct. It’s a British actor named Arnold Diamond, who had dozens of small roles in films and TV shows, mainly police dramas, in the seventies and eighties.

I wonder whether we’ll see Diamond actually on location in the next episode, or whether the producers shot this and other scenes in his office in the UK, using a film camera rather than building an office set in a studio, using the different appearance of film and tape to fool viewers into thinking he was really Dutch?

Anyway, it turns out that part of Caine’s plan involves smuggling some of the stolen gold back to the UK by way of disguised auto parts. Buchan’s own car is nobbled and the garage that the villains are using is recommended, and Ryan and Burke install a brand new solid gold muffler on his Lotus. Seems a shame that they had to paint it all silver, really.