Last of the Summer Wine never claimed to break new ground in television, yet it was revolutionary in its way. Its characters were mostly over 50 – in some cases well over – and it appealed to two sections of the audience often neglected by comedy producers – those in the North and those over 30.
Yet it was by any measure one of the most successful comedies there has ever been. Its total of 295 episodes is unprecedented in Britain and all the more remarkable for having been written by the same person, a former soldier, teacher and policeman from Austerfield, near Doncaster, named Roy Clarke.
He was already a prolific scriptwriter when Summer Wine took to the air, having won a Writers’ Guild award for ATV’s The Misfits, with Ronald Fraser. But it was 1973 that was to be his breakthrough year, with the premieres of not only Summer Wine but also another North Country classic – Open All Hours with Ronnie Barker and David Jason, the sequel to which is still in production.
Clarke’s signature piece, filmed in and around Holmfirth, centred on three men, old in years but young at heart. The original trio was Bill Owen as the mischievous Compo, Peter Sallis as the easy-going Clegg, and Michael Bates as the haughty Blamire. When Bates became ill after two series – he was also starring in It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum at the same time – Brian Wilde took over as “Foggy” Dewhurst.
By the time the sun finally set on the cobbles and terraces of their world, Summer Wine had become Britain’s longest-running comedy and the longest-running sitcom in the world. Its demise was almost a national event, marked by a special edition of Songs of Praise from Holmfirth.
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