At last, the last of the Last of the Summer Wine

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The Independent Online

Well, now, there's a thing. This summer is the last summer of Last of the Summer Wine. After this one's lease has run, never again will you be able to relax among the elderly cavortings, whimsical Yorkshire quaintnesses and cosy comings and goings of what is the BBC's longest-running sitcom, just the 37 years old.

Many people, of course, will claim ignorance that it's still about. But the show continues to attract respectable audiences, even if they are five or so times fewer than the 18 million who watched in its pomp, when the wrinkles in Nora Batty's stockings were still driving Compo wild with exquisitely painful unrequited lust and Sunday somehow wasn't Sunday without – yes, you knew I'd get round to it pretty soon – that bathtub careering down some slope or other.

Mind you, I haven't watched it at all regularly myself for some time now, but that's part of the point of it: rather like the House of Lords, The Mousetrap, The Roses cricket match, Tony Benn, Melvyn Bragg's hair, Ken Dodd, John Humphrys, Linda Snell, Sir Cliff, Bingo, and Lord Tebbit, wherever you were you knew they were happily chuntering on and all was well; well, comparatively.

Like the House of Lords, too, it could find a place for old friends about whose prospects, and, indeed survival, you might have worried: two great stalwarts of British comedy, Russ Abbott, and Burt Kwouk, for example, have recently been enlivening the classic clash between plain people speaking as they find and plain daft people misbehaving as they will; between the young and middle-aged who have to take themselves seriously and the old-aged who, with glorious relief and exceptions, don't have to bother any more.

It's the inspiration of Roy Clarke, one of our finest comedy writers, as acute, cute and clever in his way as his fellow Yorkshireman, Alan Bennett; see also the keen social tics and aspirations of Ronnie Barker's shopkeeper in Open All Hours and Patricia Routledge's awesome Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced, please, Bouquet). Clarke, now 80, has, remarkably, written every episode.

So please hum gently to yourself Ronnie Hazlehurst's finely wistful theme as we take you for a trip down and back to Holmfirth with the aid of these memory joggers: Compo, Cleggy and Nora; Foggy Dewhurst, Seymour Utterthwaite and Truly Truelove; Entwistle, Sid and Ivy; Auntie Wainwright, Wesley Pegden and all. They've all been in it, too, you know: June Whitfield, Thora Hird, Dora Bryan: any strong northern woman you'd be wise to admire from a distance, and any number of recklessly foolish men, including Norman Wisdom, Eric Sykes and, it says here, John Cleese.

It remains to add the de rigeur list at these times of other events in 1973: Watergate, The Cold War and The Dark Side of the Moon. Peter Andre and Ole Gunnar Solskjær were born and Picasso and Auden died, but I don't think there's any connection.

And to salute the great Peter Sallis, possessor of a northern accent not half bad for a Londoner. He's not only played Clegg from the very beginning but also that ineffable turophile, Wallace, Gromit's pet. And still with us, unlike Compo (Bill Owen) and Nora Batty (Kathy Staff). He's 89 now, as is Frank Thornton, Truelove as well as the magnificent Captain Peacock of Are You Being Served. Tempus fugit, sadly. I did ask the BBC how many times the bath had travelled, but they must still be counting.

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