Sunday, 30 January 2011

Worzel Gummidge (1979-1981)

Worzel is one of my earliest book-memories, audio-book-memories and tv-memories. Somehow I remember all three when I try and think back as far as I can... I can picture Worzel falling backwards in Ten-acre Field very clearly as he does in the end credits of the TV show I watched repeats of as a child. I can hear Jon Pertwee's voice proposing marriage to a lady scarecrow and then telling her he's going to kick her head off if she doesn't accept him from the audio book I listened to when I first had tonsilitis. And I can see the illustrations of ferocious Aunt Sally, the one in the book, the one who's actually his aunt- not his cruel but cute love interest.
I got the boxset of Worzel for Christmas, I haven't watched the series they made six years later in New Zealand, I'm not sure if I should... I've just finished watching the 30 original episodes and I think I will wait a while before tainting it, I often wish I'd never seen the second series of Catweazle.
I feel both happy and extremely sad while watching Worzel, the British countryside and village teashop, climbing over fences and kids wearing clothes that could be from any time between 1945 and 1985. I feel like it was my childhood -especially my holidays, but maybe it wasn't, maybe it was the things I read in my childhood and I'm just remembering it wrong. It makes me sad that childhood isn't going to be like that for future kids and sad that what I draw and how I think is nostalgic, when I draw children they look like Susan and John. And that's just the look of Worzel. The characters and the scripts they make me happy and sad too.
I remember enjoying the books as a child, but they are odd books, they are amusing, but they're quite sinister. Worzel was a sometimes angry sometimes miserable weirdo, completely disinterested in the children, just going about his business. Lots of these classic kids' books and TV shows rely on the idea that children have secret friendships with these grown-up freaks (Stig of the Dump, Worzel, Catweazle, et al.) No wonder TV has got so boring, kids wouldn't be allowed to be friends with a creepy old scarecrow nowadays.
The TV show doees have the odd unsettling episode every now and then- these are the ones that stick to the books quite well and usually feature Geoffrey Bayldon wheeling about on his bike dressed as an undertaker- but there are jolly episodes too with singing and dancing and cake throwing. The main thrill for me comes from Una Stubbs' superb comic timing, I think she is the funniest woman I've ever seen, I only remembered Aunt Sally from the books- and I was scared of her. If I'd have remembered Una I would have smiled more widely at her when she walked past me last August in Chichester. She is perfectly horrible and aggressive, but so amusing, physically she is brilliantly funny, a look from her, a subtle grab at a plate of sausages or watching her cram a cake into her mouth has me laughing out loud. She was very physically funny in the two plays I saw last year, but she didn't feature heavily, maybe that's why I didn't mention her.
And yet it is because of this re-written character that Worzel is such a tragic programme, I watched an episode today where kind, giggly Dolly Clothes Peg (a pretty manequin played by Lorraine Chase) asks Worzel to marry her but Worzel chooses the selfish cruel wooden doll who will never love him instead despite knowing this and knowing he could be happy with the other. The last shot was of Dolly Clothes Peg looking back for a moment with her fingers crossed before turning back to her lonely walk home with tears rolling down her face.
So many episodes, I'd say more than half, end with a character being disappointed by their own existence. And usually so disappointed that they are weeping! I mean, god! It's utterly tragic! and then it cuts to the jolly theme tune!
I like things that make me sad, I enjoy Worzel all the more when after a chaotic episode we see Aunt Sally with all her dreams of grandeur and adventure looking sadly out of her attic window knowing she's just a fairground doll. Or lovestruck Worzel believing Sal when she says she'll look after his money then watching her march straight into a clothes shop and spending it before he walks away with tears in his eyes. It's not just a children's show then, it's reality! It's so sad. Remember when Catweazle disappeared and Carrot just walked sadly back to his farm, that was perfect! I don't want to watch the New Zealand episodes and find they are not tragic, I think that would be completely awful.

1 comment:

  1. I would also like to add that after watching Dolly Clothes Peg's heart being broken I burst into tears. It was the most painful thing I'd ever seen.