Television review

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For many years now, the title of Last of the Summer Wine (BBC1) has sounded in this viewer's ears like a broken promise. But the episode which went out yesterday evening finally marks the beginning of the end; "The Love Mobile" was the first of the last of Last of the Summer Wine, and I think even the show's greatest fans might concede that the fabric is beginning to wear thin - there is, for example, only so much you can do with the "old geezer careering out of control on comedy vehicle" gag. This was demonstrated with particular force last night after Smiler had been lumbered with an unsellable tandem and was helped to give the device an outing by Compo. "Are we going too fast?" Smiler asks as they wobble down a country road. "It's all right this end," replies Compo, a joke which immediately precedes the now ritual sequence in which the bicycle/milk- float/motorcycle/home-made hovercraft disappears out of sight round a bend to be followed, after a beat or two, by the sound of a box of scrap metal being dropped on a cement floor. The joke, you will be glad to know, survives the crash, shaking itself down to perform not just one, but two encores. "My end were all right," says Compo, "it were your end that were going too fast. The other members of the gang then turn up to offer dry ribaldries and Compo climbs into the back of their Land Rover. "Aren't you helping me ride this thing home?" asks Smiler. "No, your end goes too fast." I had to rewind to check I had not imagined this because the audience laughed with undiminished vigour on each occasion the joke appeared.

Roy Clarke's script does include lines which would bear repetition better, particularly in the nature of affectionate insult ("You don't need the Love Mobile - you need Farmer's Weekly," Compo is told when he declares an interest in using the services of a mobile dating agency) and Northern xenophobia ("They come back from abroad with very inflated ideas about what should be in a salad," complains one woman during a discussion of Continental immorality). But even the excellent company of comedians (Thora Hird and Jean Alexander is almost too much of a good thing) can't quite disguise the fact that it is now just going through the motions - with yet more genially misogynist jokes about the incompatibility of men and women and increasingly hapless slapstick. They are right to retire.

The Roses of No Man's Land (C4) explored one of the few areas of the Great War not to have been already exhaustively mapped by documentarists and film-makers - that is, the experience of those who nursed the casualties back to some kind of health. It was often an intensely affecting film, not just because of the memories these women had, but because they themselves were now so fragile, veterans of the long attrition of life (the film had clearly been made just in time - four of the participants have died since their interviews). As they talked, you couldn't quite tell where the distress of recollection faded into the simple labour of talking for so long.

Many of the volunteers had lead relatively protected lives before their brutal instruction in the realities of the war - gangrenous wounds, amputations and the industrial output of death. But the most painful of the revelations was the child-like vulnerability of the men, however strong or manly they appeared. "This young fellow, I suppose he was taller than I was. But he did want his mummy so much. He cried for his mummy. I said 'Oh, I'll be your mummy tonight' and gave him a big hug," recalled one woman. Another remembered the distorted perceptions of men in desperate need of familiar comfort: "So often... so often... they would say 'You remind me of my mother', who must have been three times my age." Some questions were missing - you longed to know how this terrible education had changed their feelings towards men or towards the patriotic celebration of the war - but it was a moving memorial all the same.

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