Review Worzel Gummidge (1979)

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Worzel Gummidge is a children's sitcom, produced by Southern Television for ITV, based on the Worzel Gummidge books by English author Barbara Euphan Todd.[1] Starting in 1979, the programme starred Jon Pertwee in the title role and ran for four series in the UK until 1981.[2] On a countdown of the greatest British children's programmes, this series was number 50 in the 50 Greatest Kids TV Shows on Channel 5 on 8 November 2013. Channel 4 reprised the show in 1987 as Worzel Gummidge Down Under, which was set in New Zealand.

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In 1979, a television adaptation of Worzel Gummidge was produced by ITV station Southern Television for transmission on the ITV network. It was written by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, and starred former Doctor Who actor Jon Pertwee as Worzel and Una Stubbs as Aunt Sally, a life-size fairground doll and Worzel's femme fatale.[3] This was a significant change from the original books, where Aunt Sally is Worzel's aunt, and Worzel is married to Earthy Mangold, a character who does not appear in the series. The Crowman, who made Worzel and some of his other scarecrow friends, is played by Geoffrey Bayldon, better known for his starring role as the title character of Catweazle. Regular and occasional guest appearances were made by well known TV actors of the time, including Barbara Windsor, Billy Connolly, Bill Maynard, Joan Sims, Lorraine Chase, Bernard Cribbins, Connie Booth, David Lodge and Mike Reid.

Four series, totalling 30 episodes and one extended Christmas special, were made between 1979 and 1981, when Southern lost its contract to broadcast on ITV. The new contract-holder, TVS, did not renew the show, despite a massive press campaign led by the Daily Star. Attempts were made to continue the series, produced independently by Southern for the BBC[4] and then to be produced in Ireland,[5] but these failed. HTV continued with their plans to produce the show in Ireland[6] but these plans fell through because of trade union problems,[7] as did attempts by the same company to make further episodes in England, although the scripts that Waterhouse & Hall had written for the Irish episodes were published in book form. Pertwee and Stubbs starred in the musical Worzel Gummidge in 1981 at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre which also starred Lucy Benjamin (then Lucy Jane Baker) as Sue. Jon Pertwee's final TV appearance as Worzel was in 1995, to celebrate 40 years of ITV.

"Worzel's Song", sung by Jon Pertwee, was released in 1980 reaching number 33 in the UK charts.[8]

Filming locations[edit]
The main locations for filming were the villages of Stockbridge, King's Somborne and Braishfield, all of which are near Romsey in Hampshire. The Scatterbrook Farm scenes were filmed at Pucknall in Braishfield; Michelmersh was used for the scenes in the Scatterbrook barn.[9]

New Zealand[edit]
The programme remained in limbo until Television New Zealand, in association with Channel 4, commissioned Worzel Gummidge Down Under in 1987, which was shot on location in New Zealand and ran for two series totaling 22 episodes. Only Pertwee and Stubbs remained from the original cast, with Bruce Phillips joining the cast as the Crowman (Geoffrey Bayldon declined to reprise the role, partly because he didn't want to be typecast in the part, but also because the move to New Zealand was not convenient for him) and Olivia Ihimaera-Smiler, daughter of prominent Māori author Witi Ihimaera joining as one of the children. The Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson received an early credit for his work providing special effects for the series.

Series two of Worzel Gummidge Down Under was written by a rotation of New Zealand writers, while everything that had gone before was entirely the work of Waterhouse and Hall. Jon Pertwee was unhappy with the scripts for the sequel, which he stated did not have "the underlying morality" of the originals. Aunt Sally found herself a human companion in this new series, which infuriated Pertwee as he considered this beneath the series.[citation needed]

Michael Grade, the newly appointed head of Channel 4, called for its cancellation when the New Zealand version of the show failed to catch the viewers' imagination as before.

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In the series, Worzel Gummidge was a scarecrow that could come to life. Living in Ten Acre Field, he would often visit the nearby village of Scatterbrook. He befriended two children, brother and sister John and Sue Peters, who often tried to clear up the messes he created. Worzel had a collection of interchangeable turnip, mangel wurzel and swede heads; each suiting a particular occasion or allowing him to perform a certain task. He also had his own language, Worzelese.[1] Worzel's catchphrases were: "A cup o' tea an' a slice o' cake", "I'll be bum-swizzled" and "Bozzy MCoo". He was madly in love with Aunt Sally, a vain, cruel-hearted fairground coconut-shy doll[1] who considered herself a lady and far too good for a common scarecrow such as Worzel. Aunt Sally often exploits Worzel for her own ends (in one episode, she promises to marry him if he frees her from a junkshop washing machine, but she never has any intention of going through with it).

The rationale for the move to New Zealand in Down Under was that Aunt Sally is purchased by a visiting museum curator from New Zealand, and Worzel follows her into the luggage chute.

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Episode list[edit]
Series 1[edit]
  1. "Worzel's Washing Day" (25 February 1979) The Peters family moves into a caravan on Scatterbrook Farm, and John and Sue Peters meet Worzel Gummidge, a scarecrow who can come to life.
  2. "A Home Fit for Scarecrows" (4 March 1979) John and Sue offer Worzel a proper chair for his home in the barn if he will teach them Worzelese; the scarecrow also gets the idea to steal a full set of furniture from the villagers.
  3. "Aunt Sally" (11 March 1979) Worzel takes the afternoon off to go to the village fête to see his intended, Aunt Sally, even though she considers herself to be too good for him. Aunt Sally takes advantage of his feelings for her and persuades him to exchange places with her so she can escape being sold to a museum.
  4. "The Crowman" (18 March 1979) Worzel begs his creator, the Crowman, to make him a handsome head so he can get a wife. After a disastrous visit to the home of Mrs. Boomsbury-Barton, the scarecrow learns that it is more important to be handsome inside than out.
  5. "A Little Learning" (25 March 1979) Worzel turns the farm upside down looking for his Clever Head. When he finds it at the nearby school and puts it on, he encounters a teacher who takes him for a genius.
  6. "Worzel Pays a Visit" (1 April 1979) When Worzel is told that the runaway Aunt Sally is working as a housemaid at Mrs. Bloomsbury-Barton's home, he decides to pay her a call. But the mistress is away, and Sally pretends to be the lady of the house and invites Worzel in for tea, resulting in chaos.
  7. "The Scarecrow Hop" (8 April 1979) Aunt Sally is in a despondent mood after being sacked from her position as lady's maid to Mrs. Bloomsbury-Barton. To cheer her up, Worzel asks her to the charity ball.
Series 2[edit]
  1. "Worzel and the Saucy Nancy" (6 January 1980)
  2. "Worzel's Nephew" (13 January 1980)
  3. "A Fishy Tale" (20 January 1980)
  4. "The Trial of Worzel Gummidge" (27 January 1980)
  5. "Very Good, Worzel" (3 February 1980)
  6. "Worzel in the Limelight" (10 February 1980)
  7. "Fire Drill" (17 February 1980)
  8. "The Scarecrow Wedding" (24 February 1980)
Series 3[edit]
  1. "Moving On" (1 November 1980)
  2. "Dolly Clothes Peg" (8 November 1980)
  3. "A Fair Old Pullover" (15 November 1980)
  4. "Worzel the Brave" (22 November 1980)
  5. "Worzel's Wager" (29 November 1980)
  6. "The Return of Dafthead" (6 December 1980)
  7. "Captain Worzel" (13 December 1980)
  8. "Choir Practice" (20 December 1980)
Christmas special[edit]
  1. "A Cup o' Tea and a Slice o' Cake" (27 December 1980) – Unusually this double-length musical special did not have the Worzel Gummidge title sequence, "A Cup o' Tea and a Slice o' Cake" being its only on screen title followed by "Starring Jon Pertwee" as per the standard titles.[10]
Series 4[edit]
  1. "Muvver's Day" (31 October 1981)
  2. "The Return of Dolly Clothes-Peg" (7 November 1981)
  3. "The Jumbly Sale" (14 November 1981)
  4. "Worzel in Revolt" (21 November 1981)
  5. "Will the Real Aunt Sally...?" (28 November 1981)
  6. "The Golden Hind" (5 December 1981)
  7. "Worzel's Birthday" (12 December 1981)

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New Zealand seasons[edit]
Series 5[edit]
  1. "As The Scarecrow Flies" (4 October 1987)
  2. "The Sleeping Beauty" (11 October 1987)
  3. "Full Employment" (18 October 1987)
  4. "Worzel's Handicap" (25 October 1987)
  5. "King of the Scarecrows" (1 November 1987)
  6. "Ten Heads Are Better Than One" (8 November 1987)
  7. "Worzel to the Rescue" (15 November 1987)
  8. "Slave Scarecrow" (22 November 1987)
  9. "The Traveller Unmasked" (29 November 1987)
  10. "A Friend in Need" (6 December 1987)
Series 6[edit]
  1. "Stage Struck" (29 January 1989)
  2. "A Red Sky in T'Morning"(5 February 1989)
  3. "Them Thar Hills" (12 February 1989)
  4. "The Beauty Contest" (19 February 1989)
  5. "Bulbous Cauliflower" (26 February 1989)
  6. "Weevily Swede" (5 March 1989)
  7. "Elementary My Dear Worty" (12 March 1989)
  8. "Dreams of Avarish" (19 March 1989)
  9. "Runaway Train" (26 March 1989)
  10. "Aunt Sally, R.A." (2 April 1989)
  11. "Wattle Hearthbrush" (9 April 1989)
  12. "The Bestest Scarecrow" (16 April 1989)
Stage musical[edit]
A stage musical adaptation, titled Worzel Gummidge - The Musical, was created by the TV series creators Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall with music by Denis King and featuring the original TV principal cast Jon Pertwee, Una Stubbs and Geoffrey Bayldon. The musical first premiered at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre for the 1980 Christmas season before receiving rave reviews and transferring to the Cambridge Theatre in London's West End from 22 December 1981 and extending to 27 February 1982. The Original London 1981 Cast Album was recorded at Abbey Road Studios; It featured 15 songs and 4 bonus tracks titled The Worzel Gummidge Christmas Maxi Single.[11][12]

In popular culture[edit]
  • In the early 1980s, British Labour Party leader Michael Foot was satirically compared to Worzel Gummidge as a criticism of his allegedly unkempt appearance

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Track Listing

1 - Worzel's Song

2 - Sulking

3 - The Scarecrow's Party

4 - O-Wor-K-Wor-Dip

5 - I Might We'll See

6 - Acting

7 - Scarecrows On Parade

8 - If I Was You And You Was Me

9 - Singalonga Worzel

10 - Who'd Be A Scarecrow?

11 - Oh What A Day This Is

12 - The Worzel Walk

Reference: vinyl1510648838HMB