Brian Wilde: Foggy in 'Last of the Summer Wine'
Friday 21 March 2008
In the long-running, gentle sitcom Last of the Summer Wine, Brian Wilde established himself as the best-loved "third man" among the ageing trio of eccentrics who whiled away the hours in the Yorkshire Pennines by recalling memories past, mulling over the trials and tribulations of the present, and – despite their years – making plans for the future. He had two spells with the BBC programme written by Roy Clarke, which did much for tourism in the West Yorkshire village of Holmfirth.
Wilde joined Last of the Summer Wine as Foggy Dewhirst in 1976, for its third series, to replace the actor Michael Bates, who had played Cyril Blamire since the 1973 pilot but had had to leave two years later after being diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Foggy was the perfect foil to Bill Owen's carefree, shabby Compo and Peter Sallis as the wry Cleggy. With quiet pomposity and sometimes bombastic mutterings, he introduced military tactics into their madcap adventures. He managed to clear the village café of customers with his recollections of jungle warfare and, at other times, would shock unsuspecting locals by jumping out from a secret lookout post while camouflaged.
Wilde even did some of his own stunts – once, with his leg in plaster, being put in a wheelchair at the top of a hill, which he then had to roll down. One of his favourite episodes was about the reopening of a railway line, which Foggy announced to his friends by blowing a whistle and waving a flag. "I liked it when the engine moved away and we thought Compo was on it and we looked round and he was standing next to us,"recalled Wilde. "The engine was going by itself and we all started running after it – that was a funny scene."
Wilde decided to leave in 1985 but was persuaded to return five years later, following the departure of Michael Aldridge, who had filled the gap by taking on the newly created role of the kind and gentle Seymour Utterthwaite. Wilde remained until 1997.
He later reflected: "When I returned to the show in 1990, it was like starting again. There were so many new faces. I'm not sure that I enjoyed the second lot as much as the first. I was older and less happy about location work."
Although Last of the Summer Wine provided Wilde with his longest-running television role, he is also remembered by viewers for another classic sitcom, Porridge (1974-77), starring Ronnie Barker as the old lag Fletcher, who cynically exploited the prison system. In a performance of understatement and subtlety, Wilde played Mr Barrowclough, the soft-centred and ineffectual prison warder who believed that those in jail would only learn trust by being shown trust.
"You had the old, hard-bitten warders who felt prisoners were inside to be punished, and a new wave of officers coming through who were interested in rehabilitating prisoners," said Wilde, reflecting on the different styles of Barrowclough and his superior, the governor played by Fulton Mackay.
Inevitably in a sitcom, Barrowclough was easily conned by Fletcher and other inmates. He would also confide in Fletcher about his domestic problems – caused by a wife who had affairs with the postman, a marriage-guidance counsellor and others.
Wilde's only regret about the role was that it never turned out to be as prominent as in the 1973 pilot, Prisoner and Escort, when Barrowclough was seen taking Fletcher to Slade Prison, in the wilds of Cumbria. "I had lots to do in it," he said, "whereas in other episodes I wasn't given so much, which was sad."
Born in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, in 1927, Wilde grew up in Hertfordshire, then trained at Rada and gained a grounding in acting at repertory theatres. He worked his way up to the West End, appearing in the Peter Ustinov play The Moment of Truth (Adelphi Theatre, 1951), and soon landed small parts on screen, starting with the BBC murder-mystery Black Limelight (1952) and the film Street Corner (1953).
Wilde's first experience of sitcom was as Bob, flatmate of the title character – a danceband trumpeter, played by Michael Medwin – in The Love of Mike (1960). He later played the put-upon Mr Salisbury in Room at the Bottom (1967), the first television comedy to be written by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey, with Kenneth Connor starring as a cunning maintenance man at the Saracens Manufacturing Company.
More successful was The Dustbinmen, the Jack Rosenthal-created comedy in which Wilde took over the role of Bloody Delilah, leader of the gang of refuse collectors, for the second and third series (1970). He was also frequently seen in popular dramas, including Z Cars (1963-65), Softly Softly (1966), Dixon of Dock Green (1966-67), The Avengers (1967) and The Troubleshooters (1967).
Wild later played the radio station boss Roland Simpson in the first series of the sitcom The Kit Curran Radio Show (1984), starring Denis Lawson as a disc jockey on a small local radio station.
Brian Wilde, actor: born Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire 13 June 1927; married Eva Stuart (one son, one daughter); died Ware, Hertfordshire 20 March 2008.
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