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About A Week: Not The Last Of The Summer Wine

Peter Hinchliffe is enjoying his summer wine years.

For the first time in the nation’s history pensioners outnumber children.

Recently released figures compiled by the Office for National Statistics show that in mid-2007 there were 11,561,000 pensioners and 11,509,400 children under sixteen.

The UK’s population has just passed the 60 million mark.

Britons are living longer. The fastest growing age group are the over-80s. Last year there was a 5 per cent increase to 2,700,000. There are now 1,200,000 more over-80s now than there were 25 years ago.

A boy child born in the UK can now expect to live 77 years, and a girl 81 years.

The state pension, boosted by extra payments for those in particular need, guarantee that no British pensioner has to live on less than £124 ($226) a week.

The soaring costs of heating and lighting a home and buying food necessitate careful budgeting. And the increasing demands for full-time or part-time care for the elderly are putting ever-increasing strains on national and local authorities.

But millions of UK pensioners enjoy a quality of later life that far exceeds that experienced by their parents.
Organisations such as the University of the Third Age have sprung up to bring intellectual and social stimulation. There’s free bus travel, and gyms provide special membership rates for keep-fit pensioners.

The BBC comedy sitcom Last Of The Summer Wine, filmed just eight miles away from my Yorkshire home, serves as an on-going reminder that old age can be fun.

Its slapstick scenes feature folk of senior years whose madcap escapades hark back to youthful follies.

The message comes across loud and clear. You can still have fun when you reach sixty, seventy, eighty...

The first Summer Wine series was screened in 1973. The 29th series is being shown this year, and a 30th series is in production.

The show is aired in 25 countries, including the USA. It’s the longest-running comedy programme in Britain and the longest-running sitcom in the world.

Filming takes place in and around the small town of Homfirth in a beautiful Pennine valley. Stone cottages rising up the hills and cosy cafés are perfect places to gather and gossip. The hills and nearby moors lend themselves to such unlikely scenes as an old chap in a runaway bathtub on wheels, careening to possible oblivion.

Summer Wine, with its cast of eccentric characters, is said to be British Queen Elizabeth’s favourite TV show.

Roy Clarke, the author of Last Of The Summer Wine, did not have Holmfirth in mind when he wrote his 30-minute TV episodes.

Comedian, writer and TV producer Barry Took made a series of documentaries for the BBC about working men's clubs. One of those clubs was Burnlee Working Men’s, Holmfith, the venue for a Local Club Entertainer of the Year competition which I helped to organise. Took saw the potential of Holmfirth as the setting for a TV show.

Summer Wine uses businesses and homes in and around Holmfirth, such as Sid’s café and stroppy female character Norah Batty’s house, which is lived in. Only yesterday I had a scone and a cup of coffee in Sid’s café.

The show has attracted tourists to Holmfirth and the surrounding villages and moors. Tours are organised to what is now known as Summer Wine country.

The Yorkshire Tourist Board reports that visits to the Holmfirth area are increasing, despite a national economic downturn.

Award-winning author and journalist Denis Kilcommons, who lives not far from Holmfirth, provides unsurpassable proof that productive life need not end on retirement day.

Although receiving an old-age pension Denis continues to produce an incredible flow of must-read words. He writes three columns a week, each filling a tabloid page in the local newspaper The Huddersfield Daily Examiner http://www.examiner.co.uk/views-and-blogs/columnists/denis-kilcommons/

There are numerous veterans’ bowling clubs and hiking clubs in the Summer Wine area which encourage older folk to compete and stride out through fine countryside.

And the Huddersfield branch of the University of the Third Age, with 2,400 members and more than 100 classes, is the biggest in Britain.

Huddersfield U3A was founded by Edith Bentley. At the age of 69 Edith was visiting friends in the south of England. She picked up the local weekly paper and saw a picture of elderly people, all of them smiling and looking particularly happy. On reading the story accompanying the picture she found that it was a group of French U3A members. The University of the Third Age movement originated in France.

That one story inspired Edith to set up a U3A branch in her home town. The group she founded in the 1980s went on to win the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. Edith also received an award from the Queen, and was also awarded an honorary degree when she was in her eighties from Huddersfield University.

My wife Joyce leads a U3A Spanish class.

As a 73-year-old on-line citizen journalist and the editor and originator of a daily just-for-fun daily Web magazine Open Writing and a U3A tutor, I recognise how lucky I am to live in the one part of the world which brings a message of hope.

Life begins at sixty!

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