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Donkin's World: Last Of The Summer Whine

...One thing that struck me straight away was just how normal they all were. Peter Sallis who played Clegg and Brian Wilde who played Foggy Dewhurst were particularly engaging, moaning quite a bit about the lot of the jobbing actor; because that is what they were before their new found fame and security in a hit comedy series.

Bill Owen was friendly enough but he was in and out of the caravan talking to his agent about various supermarket openings. He loved the recognition he found in the local community and was perhaps the most star struck of the three, but not in the way we might think of that term today...

Richard Donkin recalls the day he interviewed the Summer Wine stars.

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I wasn't saddened to read that Last of the Summer Wine was to end after the next series. I never found it very funny and was surprised by its popularity. But there was a gentleness to the humour that must have been comforting to an older audience that had grown accustomed to more acerbic sitcoms, such as Steptoe and Son and 'Till Death Us Do Part.

It wasn't as silly as Some Mothers Do 'ave 'em or as funny as Dad's Army but there was an undeniable appeal to the idea of three grown men reliving their childhood in a small Yorkshire Town. There must have been a collective sigh of relief among a section of the BBC audience that had never warmed to the unpredictability of Monty Python's Flying Circus. Here was something that traded on its predictability.

I hadn't realised quite how predictable it was until I read this column in the Daily Telegraph that refers to a recurring theme of the three men experimenting with different types of home-made transport. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/7802475/Bidding-farewell-to-three-men-in-a-bathtub.html

I'd forgotten about that and it brought back a conversation I had with the actors about thirty years ago when I visited them on set in the hills outside Holmfirth. I didn't like meeting famous people as a journalist and would always shy away from the celebrity interview. But it was always nice to have a day out of the office.

I turned up to their caravan somewhere near the top of Thurstonland Bank, a steep hill not far from Holmfirth. Most of the day was spent filming a stunt man falling over a wall while riding a scooter so there wasn't much demand that day on the actors' time. We sat around on deck chairs in the sunshine and simply chin-wagged.

One thing that struck me straight away was just how normal they all were. Peter Sallis who played Clegg and Brian Wilde who played Foggy Dewhurst were particularly engaging, moaning quite a bit about the lot of the jobbing actor; because that is what they were before their new found fame and security in a hit comedy series.

Bill Owen was friendly enough but he was in and out of the caravan talking to his agent about various supermarket openings. He loved the recognition he found in the local community and was perhaps the most star struck of the three, but not in the way we might think of that term today. He just liked waving to people and shaking hands. Sallis and Wilde, on the other hand, were introverted, quiet types.

One thing they complained about was the increasing pressure from the producers to put stunts in to each episode. It hadn't been like that in the earliest days, said Sallis, but the success of the Frank Spencer routines in Some Mothers had influenced other comedy series, including Dad's Army that began to rely more on physical comedy.

I love a good moan - it's part of what it means to be a Yorkshireman - so this conversation was right up my street. They accepted me straight away and took an interest in the things I was doing. It wasn't simply the "just about me" interviews you often have with the famous.

On reflection that day was one of the most enjoyable assignments I ever had in journalism. I think it was something to do with the pace of work. I was under no pressure to get back for a particular time and the actors were similarly free of pressure. It allowed everyone to behave like human beings. Sadly, that rarely happens any more, well not here in Woking.

Not long after that I began to join a couple of older journalist friends, Denis Kilcommons and Alec Ramsden on walks in the Yorkshire Dales. There was a formula to these events too. I would usually plan the walk, Alec would bring some sausage rolls cooked by his wife, we generally became lost and there would be a pub somewhere in the day. They were good times and I miss them.

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