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 3.5 – Worzel’s Wager

Another episode without too much chaos, it’s just a gentle weekend in the countryside built around the Sunday dog race in a local field. The Crowman has warned Worzel not to gamble – gambling has been the downfall of many a’scarecrow – but he also makes the mistake of tasking Worzel with watching his dog, Ratter, while he goes to mend a scarecrow at a nearby farm that has too many cats for his liking.

Interestingly, what happens next is not 100% Worzel’s fault, as it often is. Ratter hears the distant hubbub and gets loose to check it out. Sure, entering a Jack Russell in a race against five whippets is entirely our hero’s fault, but they wouldn’t have been there at all if not for the dog. Worzel turns down 100-1 odds on Ratter, because he can’t count as high as a hundred, so he takes 5-1 odds instead, provided the payout is in five individual notes, well used and crinkled up, because he needs five notes and has trouble crinkling them with his twig fingers. Our kid certainly enjoyed it because there are lots of dogs, even if the gambling element was a little over his head.

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 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.

The Avengers 4.22 – What the Butler Saw

Happily, this episode of The Avengers was much more our son’s speed than some of the others that we have watched recently. It’s a light and fun story by Brian Clemens in which there are three suspects for some defense secrets going missing. There’s an admiral who gambles too much, a brigadier who drinks too much, and a group captain who likes the ladies too much, and all three are having staffing problems in their homes. Steed takes four undercover roles, two of them with remarkable facial hair, and signs on for a course in butling, and Mrs. Peel initiates Operation: Fascination to bewitch the group captain. I think it’s one of the lesser adventures from season four, but it was simple and silly enough for our son to really enjoy it.

In the cast, I was interested to see that Thorley Walters and Howard Marion-Crawford share an amusing career similarity: perhaps their best known roles were as the assistant partner to a well-known fictional detective. Walters played Dr. Watson in at least three different Sherlock Holmes films, and Marion-Crawford was Dr. Petrie, the confidante of Nayland Smith, in the five Christopher Lee Fu Manchu movies. John Le Mesurier is also here, as a butler who, we know from the pre-credits teaser, done it!