Last Night's Television: Last Of The Summer Wine, BBC1<br />Most Annoying People 2008, BBC3

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The Independent Online

It's always sad when a beloved public figure dies. But there was a particularly traumatic aspect to the passing of Kathy Staff, last month, at 80. Can the actress really have been just 80? That means that she was only 45 when she started playing Nora Batty in Last of the Summer Wine. Bloody hell! That's a year younger than I am now. In the 1970s, you were old when you were really pretty young. Weren't you?

Poor Peter Sallis, who plays Clegg, is the last remaining character of the original central trio. So the last of his summer wine started draining 35 years ago, when he was only 53. No wonder his old chums have had to be replaced, so many times, by new chums. Sallis has been playing Clegg since he was a stripling. One of those new chums, Tom, is the real-life son of the show's most celebrated character, Compo. That's how long this show's been running. It has developed its own dynastic system. Creepy. No wonder, either, that it enjoyed for so many years plaudits admiring its portrayal of active and non-stereotypical older people. Its one and only writer, Roy Clarke, was still in his early forties when he first put pen to paper. Neither crew nor cast even knew they'd been born when they clambered aboard that shiny, new vehicle.

Last of the Summer Wine may have survived to become the world's longest-running sitcom, but you have to give it credit for its doughty insistence on reinventing itself, or having a jolly good bash at doing so anyway. It has already accommodated Britain's changing ethnic demographic, by casting Burt Kwouk, the Manchester-born Chinese actor, as Entwistle. Since Kwouk has built a comic cult following over the years, due to his ubiquity as the guy who always got to play the east Asian, this is actually a fairly neat industry gag. And Kwouk really is 78, which is nice.

Yesterday evening's offering, the first show in the 30th series, introduced Russ Abbot (61) as Luther Hobdyke, who has been living, unseen, in Holmfirth all along, surviving nocturnally as the local milkman. It was quite poignant when he confessed that he had never even met Nora, to whom he'd once mistakenly delivered semi-skimmed. In telly life, Nora was in Australia, nursing a sick sister. But in sofa life, we knew he'd never meet her now.

The comic possibility embedded in the new character did not, however, scintillate. Luther had lost his memory, he claimed, but had well-rounded recollections of having once been a secret agent. His companions insisted that he'd barely left the village all his life, but Luther speculated gamely that anyone might have been delivering the milk in the dark, providing him with cover while he busied himself with saving the world. There's gentle humour, and there's gentle cliché, and on the evidence provided by episode 279, the slide into the latter is fairly advanced.

It's been rumoured for ages that the BBC is desperate to cancel Summer Wine, but is cowed by the irritating fact that millions of people continue to adore it. I can't claim to be one of them. But you don't need to watch edgy, youthful BBC3 for too long before you start feeling that the millions may have a point.

Among the gaggle of wannabe show-offs offering their wisdom on Most Annoying People 2008, comic genius was a rare commodity. The show followed the now familiar format, addictively trashy, whereby a cheesy list is assembled, so that various talking heads can deliver caustic judgement. But only one guy, the US comedian Sherrod Small, consistently hit the right tone and raised a wry smile.

In the first episode, we merely dawdled in the foothills of annoying fame, taking a well-earned breather when we'd worked our way down from 100 to 75. I became quite mesmerised by the pronouncements of the Daily Mail's Amanda Platell, who didn't seem to understand that she was taking part in a piece of light entertainment at all. Platell pitched more as avenging angel than as witty commentator, furious with humankind for its every fall from grace (or womankind, anyway). Fern Britton and her gastric band, at 83? "It really makes you question the character of a person, when they can be that deceitful." Carla Bruni and her poetic-licence song lyric claiming 30 lovers, at 79? "I guess not many words rhyme with a hundred." That would have been quite droll, had some other lady not immediately added the spitting accusation that Bruni was "a slut". None of the boys had a bad word to say about her, though, which I guess is why the girls were so very upset.

Overall, the show was pretty bad-tempered, with various people with obvious mental-health issues decried as "crazy", "mad" or "insane". Quite. Oh, for the days when mocking the afflicted was viewed, more in the breach than the observance, it's true, as terribly low humour. Deborah Orr is 234 years old.

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