Worzel Gummidge 4.7 – Worzel’s Birthday

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!

Worzel Gummidge 4.6 – The Golden Hind

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.

Worzel Gummidge 4.3 – The Jumbly Sale

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!

Worzel Gummidge 3.9 – A Cup o’ Tea and a Slice o’ Cake (take two)

Earlier today, my son and I rewatched the Worzel Gummidge Christmas Special, first shown in 1980, at its proper place in the running order. He enjoyed it quite a lot when we first saw it together, but I figured rightly that we would both enjoy it more since we both knew who all the characters were.

To be fair, I said when I blogged about it before that it was surprisingly weaker than I expected, and I stand by that today. It’s a very underwhelming hour, with far less mayhem than a usual installment. The music’s not bad and it has some amusing moments, but it would have felt slow even without the songs taking time. A dance routine, even an energetic one, doesn’t really substitute for havoc.

The real surprise was learning that this was the final appearance for several of the recurring characters. Mrs. Braithwaite, Colonel Bloodstock, Pickles Brambles, Sergeant Beetroot, and the Saucy Nancy aren’t seen again after this. It’s certainly a shame in the case of the colonel; they never did give him a spotlight episode anywhere near as strong as Mrs. Bloomsbury-Barton, the character he replaced. And because I just love the Saucy Nancy, I’m sorry that we won’t see her again.

Of course, the saddest surprise is that the whole show doesn’t look as good as this. As I’ve discussed before, the rights owners elected against the expense of restoring the entire program, just the special. You can compare these screencaps to the rest of the series, but it’s just depressing. I’ll admit that Worzel Gummidge isn’t going to set the sales charts on fire or move a million units, but I wish that the Endemol Shine corporation, which, earlier this summer, became part of a French conglomerate called Banijay Group, had just bit the bullet. I’m sure the golden parachutes would be every bit as golden if some executive had okayed restoring this goofy and wonderful show before the sale went through.

But in the meantime, hey, you out there in charge of Banijay, Stéphane Courbit, or whatever your name is! Look at this delightful and hilarious old show that you acquired in your two billion dollar purchase. Treat it right, won’t you?

And with that, Worzel Gummidge will go back on the shelf for a few months to keep things fresh and rotate something else in to enjoy. We’ll return to Ten Acre Field in November. Stay tuned!

Worzel Gummidge 3.8 – Choir Practice

Well, here’s a missed opportunity. Sure, everything in this misadventure needs to build to Worzel, wearing his singing head, joining the choir at the local church and letting a colony of field mice out of his right arm to cause mass havoc in the aisles, and there wasn’t a lot of time – or budget – for detours. But really, they should have booked an actress and built her a stone costume so that gravestone could come to life. Our son loved the mice causing a scene, but I loved the Third Doctor meeting up with a Weeping Angel.

Worzel Gummidge 3.7 – Captain Worzel

Poor Worzel. If he had a brain between his ears, instead of a turnip, he’d see that, even though she is now married to his cousin and no longer available for courtin’, the Saucy Nancy is a far, far better friend to him than Aunt Sally.

“Captain Worzel” is one of our favorite episodes. It’s completely hilarious, and full of fun little continuity moments. Cobber Gummidge is taking a little break from married life, since he found a pirate head and left his wife, who now has sea legs rather than wheels, in charge of his original Australian head while he pillages the Barbary Coast. Worzel is too cowardly to steal a ship and rescue Aunt Sally, so Nancy gives him Cobber’s head, which leads to a great moment where Jon Pertwee tries speaking in an Australian drawl while promising to go after his sheila.

But before we get to that rescue, which is the silliest and most wonderful sight you’ve ever seen, there’s this astonishingly funny argument where Aunt Sally and the Saucy Nancy have an absolutely epic exchange of insults, screaming bloody murder at each other. I just about stopped breathing. I’m so on Nancy’s side. Aunt Sally is a broomstick and she deserves to walk the plank. Barbara Windsor is downright magical and so funny, Una Stubbs, after her so-called “rescue,” is angrier than I’ve ever seen anybody in my life, and Michael Ripper, who plays Aunt Sally’s utterly clueless owner, is off so far in his own little world that when Worzel starts pelting him with rocks and garbage, I felt sorry for the poor guy. Nobody deserves to be stuck in the middle of these three.

Worzel Gummidge 3.4 – Worzel the Brave

We had a short chat with our son this evening about taking hints. Aunt Sally has returned to Scatterbrook, and talked her way back into the Big House, and once again Worzel has decided to convince her to marry him. This will, of course, never work. The roadblock that Aunt Sally throws in his way this time is that Worzel is a coward. Worzel whines and cajoles the Crowman to make him a brave head, because he’s convinced that if only he could be brave, then Aunt Sally would ride away with him and he’d be happy forever.

But of course, Worzel would be far happier just forgetting that she ever existed. You try telling a fool in obsession that, though.

Recent history is littered with examples of men who refused to take no for an answer and turned to violence. Maybe, just maybe, the first time our son gets his heart stomped on and he growls about winning the devil back, we can tell him “Remember how Worzel kept going back to Aunt Sally again and again, making them both miserable? Remember how that never worked?”

New in the Big House, it’s that great character actor Thorley Walters, taking over from Joan Sims as the owner of the nice property. I guess the producers had a good deal going with the house’s owners. Colonel Bloodstock never speaks in a normal tone, because he’s either mumbling under his breath or yelling at everybody who hasn’t had some proper military discipline, and Aunt Sally somehow convinces herself that he’s an even finer catch than the King of Prussia or two archdukes. Also, Michael Ripper is back this week, briefly, as Mr. Shepherd, to remind viewers that he’s Aunt Sally’s owner. Proving that adults just don’t pay attention, the kids’ father seems to have no idea what an aunt sally is, never mind that this guy won’t shut up about his being a valuable antique.

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.