Thoughts on the later years of LOTSW (long)

Sarkus

Dedicated Member
This has been discussed before, but its only been since the final DVD's were released last year that I've had a chance to see the later years multiple times. And I've developed some ideas about what I think happened and why. In a nutshell, the show deviated from the formula that had worked so well for so long and I think Roy Clarke did that on purpose.

Early in Andrew Vine's book on the show he talks about the formula adopted originally for the premise and why it worked. The bossy "authority figure" with social class aspirations (Blamire, Foggy, Seymour) is paired up with a irresponsible fellow with no ambitions (Compo). In the middle is our everyman, Clegg, who worked hard and did what he thought was right during his life but wonders what it was all for. This combination of equals creates endless comic opportunities for conflict while we all know that deep down they are loyal friends because they grew up together in the same community.

This premise begins to fall apart in the mid-2000s with the increasingly limited presence of Clegg. It's understandable given Peter Sallis' age. However, without the everyman center, plotlines revolve around other characters but the same dynamics are lost. That's not to say there aren't good episodes, but there are many without a real centering character to offset the antics of the others. The only other character on the show with a similar centering presence is Barry, but he is mostly used in subplots with Glenda, not with the main central characters. Over time the inconsistent nature of these episodes contributed (along with other factors) to a decline in viewership.

In theory this should have all been resolved with the move in Series 30 to the new central trio of Hobbo, Alvin, and Entwistle. But it isn't, as the last two series are arguably more Hobbo and two sidekicks than a true trio of equals. Alvin gets some character development opposite of Stella, but otherwise simply reacts to what Hobbo is doing. And Entwistle gets no development at all.

The question is, why? The excellent interviews on that website devoted to First of the Summer Wine hints that Clarke was already somewhat bored by the LOTSW premise by the late 1980s. Twenty years later, I'm sure he felt he'd long since mined the possibilities of that set-up. And then when I realized that Clarke and Russ Abbott (Hobbo) proposed a series based on the Abbott's bumbling spy character in the mid 2000s and it makes sense. Even Abbott has admitted that he suspects that Clarke took some of the ideas they had from that proposal and put them into Hobbo. In other words, Clarke re-invented the show because he wanted to do something new.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on how and why the later series get such mixed reviews.
 

RickAns

Dedicated Member
Well said Sarkus. Cleggy has always been a favorite of mine throughout the show. Even though he may not have been as high profile as some other characters he was the mortar that held them together and balanced things out.

As Clegg got older I feel that Barry could have been a nice one to step in and fill Clegg's shoes if given the chance. Add Alvin, Tom and Entwhistle to the mix, with greater character development things could have gone well as a group of equals. Alvin, Tom and Entwhistle could swap the roles of being the dreamer with a grand idea for an adventure or invention. Then in another episode those three could swap being the idle, irresponsible one. All the while with Barry as the centering force amongst them. Not forgetting some screen time for our constables Cooper and Walsh.

True, maybe Roy Clarke was getting a little tired of writing the show by then. I am sure that there would have been a few able writers who would have been willing to help out and pen some episodes in the same style. They could have helped free up Roy's time for other projects while he still had oversight on LoTSW. I know it is easy to play armchair quarterback after the fact. I am trying to take nothing away from Mr Clarke's efforts. Just tossing out ideas that could have kept a well loved show still moving in an enjoyable direction.
 

maltrab

Administrator
Staff member
I doubt if we'll ever know the true reason the show was pulled, The BBC seemed to be the main culprit complaining about viewing figures, yet with still over 5 million watchers, in a time when all viewing figures for live TV had dropped dramatically, they did not reveal the folk who watched on Catch-up TV or internet viewing, these days TV companies go apperplexic for 5 million viewers for a live show, like Sky TV and Game of Thrones, which seems to be one of the few shows for that amount of viewers these days.
The BBC also pointed out high insurance cost for aging cast members being out on set in the wilds of Yorkshire
It could well of been Roy had run out of new idea's,we had seen in later episodes similar plots from the earlier series, some of them repeated in Still Open all Hours
Though the show had to end at some point I still feel it could have ended with a final special
 

captain clutterbuck

LOTSW Fanatic
It is so difficult to decide when to stop. People cite Fawlty Towers as perhaps the prime example of how long a series should run which was 2 seasons . Peter Kay followed suit with Car Share and was considering a 3rd but quashed that idea [for now] however , he has announced this week he has received so much abuse and outpouring of anger about how he ended the show he has agreed to "tie up loose ends" with two specials to air next year .

I subscribe that Roy Clarke has simply run out of ideas , Still Open All Hours is a shadow of the original and personally I believe should have not been made . Of long running series which has taken a break and come back with a feel of comfortable slippers and is as good as it was my vote would go to Still Game , the live show gave a hint but the series was just so funny .

The wedding so called special Very Last of the Summer Wine was no way to sign off , the script was weak and predictable [everyone knew Howard would get back into the house] . I absolutely hate when Glenda finds the wedding is cancelled and its left to Pearl to rally the troops with a call for a good day out it is just so corny and almost Carry On-esque in its structure . I imagne by that time Roy Clarke was hacked off and just wanted to move on anyway. :(
 

Pearl

Super Moderator
Staff member
Totally agree with everything said.
The first 2 series where real, true to life. I could totally see three men sitting the library or the cafe having those conversations then series 3 to 8 with Foggy were also very visible in terms of reality. When Seymour arrived it turned more into slapstick situations but still very believable. Foggy's return carried on with the slapstick but very well written and enjoyable. It was after that for me it started to deteriorate, it wasn't believable anymore and the slapstick really took over. I did enjoy some of the later episodes but by then it had really moved away from what it had been. I've given Hobbo lots of chances and room to grow on me but I still can't stand him.
 

barmpot

LOTSW Fanatic
The introduction of subsidiary characters was probably the start of a slow demise. Each show had to have a few set pieces which, truthfully, did not add to the overall storyline however funny they might have been. An example being the ladies' coffee morning. Funny but often not always connected to the rest of the script.

Some of the best ones revolved round just the three - contrasting their positions. Good example is Full Steam Behind. Or just one other character - such as Ludovic. Of the garener they wanted to annoy in the one with the giant carrot and so on. But when the Howard - Marina - Pearl triangle came along there was another sub plot that had to be accommodated. And after a while it was in every episode. Possibly over done in the long run. Not every episode in the earlier series included Sid and Ivy, Norah and Wally which meant there was some chance of better drawn vignettes of the three. Pearl has already commented on the believable situations with Blamire and the earlier Foggy episodes and how gradually the situations became more contrived and less real.
There was a long time when everything revolved around Smiler being a lodger with Norah - too much in my view as the story line did not alter.

Some of the story lines did not work in a thirty minute show but in a special such as Crums there was time to develop the characters and it worked well then with the larger ensemble. Once there were more than six characters to included in each 30 minutes it seems it lost its way. So you could involve Sid and Wally and one other - worked. But when every show had to have Barry-Glenda, ladies coffee morning -, Aunties shop, police constables, Howard-Marina-Pearl - it cramped the possibilities.

I recall making this point in the Summer Wine Appreciation Society Journal in the 1990s - it was not well received back then either!



Not saying that Howard-Marina-Pearl should not have been introduced but they did not need to be in every episode. One of the strong story lines is in the Christmas special filmed as an insert into a bigger programme where the three decide not to celebrate Christmas and are visited by three orphans. Brilliant.

I have a number of complete sets of sitcoms from the BBC and there does seem to be an almost inevitable falling off after four series or so. To my mind the later Dad's Army were not as good overall, the later Keeping Up Appearances also - as storylines were repeated and the same sub routines included in each and every show. Open All Hours reached four series and that makes it a stronger show in my view as it went out on a higher note. But even then by the end some plots were thinly disguised variations of earlier ones - as if there is only so much theat can be squeezed out of any one situation. Perhaps John Cleese was right - just two series.
 

captain clutterbuck

LOTSW Fanatic
One final point from me, I believe given the show was originally based on a three men lead and after a succession of departures Roy Clarke was clearly keen to keep that winning formula. The trouble was who do you get to fulfil that role that had been masterfully been played by Bill Owen across many series and Michael Bates, Michael Aldridge , Brian Wilde and Frank Thornton over several with the constant presence of the Peter Sallis ?

The pool of available talent was not vast in numbers, enter stage left Russ Abbot in a part that was written to basically allow him to perform parts of his stage act with aspects lifted from his Madhouse Show , Basildon Bond et al . In certain quarters LOTSW was viewed as a boat hole for ageing English Actors and specifically Comedic Actors who found TV work hard to come by as the content portfolio changed . I often wonder if the BBC bosses thought funding could be better spent on shows to go in a new direction rather than support a cast of ageing actors whose fees ,I would imagine, were quite high compared with blooding new talent at a much lower cost . All conjecture I'm afraid I guess we will never know.
 

Pearl

Super Moderator
Staff member
Having said that, yes it did start out with basically three men sitting about talking but if the subplot characters hadn't been introduced how long would three men talking for half an hour been sustainable? Even with a great writer? The little subplots were entertaining and gave a short distraction. It started to get to much when the slapstick took over, Eli was the end for me. I know that last bit will be unpopular but there it is.
 

dick

LOTSW Fanatic
We are doing it again aren't we ! We supposedly love this show but here we are pulling it to pieces ! Sure some of it was getting stale but would it have gone on so long if it was rubbish ??:confused::02:
 

captain clutterbuck

LOTSW Fanatic
Dick,

I am certainly not pulling it to pieces I am merely offering an opinion, following on from Sarkus's post, regarding the show, giving potential reasons why perhaps the BBC cancelled it , why maybe Roy Clarke did run out of ideas . However, that is not a criticism of someone who has excelled at writing 295 , 30 minute and more episodes, which I could not begin to contemplate how to keep fresh and compelling . Let' s be realistic, to those people on this site they will remain compelling for time in memoriam including myself , but even on the forum I imagine everyone has a different opinion about the quality of the writing over the various series as they do regarding characters . The very fact that is shown daily on two channels in the UK seven years after the last episode is testimony to its longevity and long may it continue. :)
 

dick

LOTSW Fanatic
Dick,

I am certainly not pulling it to pieces I am merely offering an opinion, following on from Sarkus's post, regarding the show, giving potential reasons why perhaps the BBC cancelled it , why maybe Roy Clarke did run out of ideas . However, that is not a criticism of someone who has excelled at writing 295 , 30 minute and more episodes, which I could not begin to contemplate how to keep fresh and compelling . Let' s be realistic, to those people on this site they will remain compelling for time in memoriam including myself , but even on the forum I imagine everyone has a different opinion about the quality of the writing over the various series as they do regarding characters . The very fact that is shown daily on two channels in the UK seven years after the last episode is testimony to its longevity and long may it continue. :)
Thanks Captain, its just that every so often a sadness creeps in about acting/storylines etc. I personally disliked the Smiler is lodging with Norah episodes. Yet I loved the Seymour episodes which some folk didn't .:confused:
 

onyx(John)

Super Moderator
Staff member
There was a lot of reinvention over the years, unavoidable at times due to the loss and changes of key characters. In a show of such unprecedented longevity, changes of direction I think were essential to keep things fresh and interesting and maintain the all important ratings. So while even the most loyal supporters among us can sometimes give vent to opinions on what was good or bad in the series we ultimately appreciate that a show that stayed on our screens for so long got far more right than wrong down through the years.
 

barmpot

LOTSW Fanatic
.... I personally disliked the Smiler is lodging with Norah episodes. Yet I loved the Seymour episodes which some folk didn't .:confused:

I think it was the occasional lapse into a repetitive situation over several episodes which marred the show a few times. But it was a tremendous effort to pen 296 episodes (including the short Christmas special) so not trying to detract but merely offering a reflection that with a bit more varied line up from episode to episode it might have been even better.

I wonder how many people actually have no disliked episodes at all?

Many of us are more attuned to the ones that were on when we first watched it, thus start from differing perspectives. So ones that preceded our viewing we will probably be less concerned about or those after a long run of watching when the show developed.

So I repeat my question.

I wonder how many people actually have no disliked episodes at all?
 

cciaffone

Dedicated Member
Have all the episodes and have watched them all again and again, and
can honestly say there are none that I dislike. Well sure, some
I like better then others, but none I dislike.

chuck
 

wstol

Dedicated Member
Totally agree with everything said.
The first 2 series where real, true to life. I could totally see three men sitting the library or the cafe having those conversations then series 3 to 8 with Foggy were also very visible in terms of reality. When Seymour arrived it turned more into slapstick situations but still very believable. Foggy's return carried on with the slapstick but very well written and enjoyable. It was after that for me it started to deteriorate, it wasn't believable anymore and the slapstick really took over. I did enjoy some of the later episodes but by then it had really moved away from what it had been. I've given Hobbo lots of chances and room to grow on me but I still can't stand him.
For me, the standard remained very high during the Seymour era. New characters were being tried out, and the comedy was sometimes very physical, but there had been a lot of physical stuff beforehand.

In my opinion, it all started to go wrong from 1992. It became an ensemble comedy. Each episode relied on the supporting cast. Also each episode was beginning to follow the same pattern - the morning sequence - consisting of Compo bothering Nora, Howard bothering Clegg, and Foggy bothering a complete stranger.

I also felt the comedy was becoming very predictable.

When Foggy left for the second time, I think the show actually benefited from some much needed freshness with a new character in Truly. Though it was sad that Foggy never returned.

With the death of Bill Owen, the show should have ended IMO. It never felt the same. New characters were still drafted in, and were becoming less believable. Slapstick was the order of the day. Coffee morning scenes were on auto-pilot - there's only so many times one could watch Thora Hird spluttering from a coffee cup when something risque was hinted at.

The premise of the show changed. For a while the trio became a quartet - which wasn't in keeping with the oroginal format. Filming locations became boring in that all the action would always take place outside Clegg's place, which was becoming too familiar.

I prefer the dialogue-based aspects of the show, something which became less apparent in later shows - which is surprising when you consider this would have been easier for the ageing cast to carry out instead of some of the physical slapstick activities.

Of course the show HAD to adapt to many changes. The cast were either leaving, or too frail to carry on as before, so we were of course lucky to have ANY new episodes.
 

Adanor

Dedicated Member
In the Vine book, it starts out with Roy Clarke as a cop in his small town and his inside look at the town characters and how many of those characters ended up in his scripts. Well, we are treated to two cops who spend their time creatively not doing their jobs. So can you image Roy Clarke as a cop imagining how it would be possible to creatively not do his job. (But I'm sure that he was an exemplary cop and it was just day dreaming.) How many times did he want to drive that patrol car up into the hills and pull out a grill and start grilling. Or to see someone speeding and look the other way? And so he got to write these little vignettes of? himself??
 

Maggie Jones

Dedicated Member
I just think Roy Clarke is a genius as are some of the other great British comedy writers. They are wordsmiths and often I laugh more at the dialogue than the storylines. The little one-liners remind me of our uniqueness. When Clegg says at the end of one episode (can't remember it's title) 'oh well let's go and get a bit of sausage for me tea' it reminds me of a common thread we have. I thought only we spoke like that here in South wales. Writers are such good observers of humans. I grew up with parents and relatives of the Edie & co generation and I find it brings back memories of that wonderful generation who went through so much hardship in their lifetimes.
 

dick

LOTSW Fanatic
I just think Roy Clarke is a genius as are some of the other great British comedy writers. They are wordsmiths and often I laugh more at the dialogue than the storylines. The little one-liners remind me of our uniqueness. When Clegg says at the end of one episode (can't remember it's title) 'oh well let's go and get a bit of sausage for me tea' it reminds me of a common thread we have.
That may be the first episode Maggie. Of Funerals And Fish !:)
 
Top