Worzel Gummidge (1979-1981) blu-ray review

There was something about watching Worzel Gummidge that would inspire its viewers to sit and watch it with a cup of tea and a slice of cake. For those unfamiliar with this children’s show Worzel Gummidge, this was a popular TV series for children and was made by Southern Television for ITV. It was about a scarecrow who comes to life and befriends a couple of children. Unfortunately for Worzel, he was not blessed with much intelligence, being that he was stuffed with straw and would have to change heads to put on, say, like his reading head. The show first aired on British television on 25th February 1979 and ran for four seasons. The series famously starred Jon Pertwee as the titular character, his second most famous role after his tenure as Doctor Who which he retired from in 1973, which then saw him handing the mantle over to Tom Baker. Worzel was based off a series of children’s books by British author, Barbara Euphan Todd, the first book having been written as early as 1937 and was a project pushed by Pertwee himself a big fan of the books.

The basic premise of the first episode focuses on two children and their father (played by Jeremy Austin and the late Charlotte Coleman playing the kids and Mike Berry as the father, a former singer and musician who later was better known when he appeared in the popular department store set sitcom, Are You Being Served in which he played Mr. Spooner, Mr. Humphrey’s junior sales clerk) who move to Scatterbrook Farm and get a taste of country life and the rural community. The family circle the countryside in their Morris Minor after finding themselves lost, with young John sighting a scarecrow in a field moving and a mysterious man talking to it, who later learn is Worzel’s creator, the Crowman. Later on, as the first season progresses we are introduced to some of the local types and a country fair where we are introduced to the other key character, a fairground Aunt Sally (brilliantly and hilariously played by the great Una Stubbs).

What is surprising on viewing is how many of the characters are not only familiar faces from television, but also from British cinema, including horror films. This includes Megs Jenkins who plays Mrs. Braithwaite who had appeared as a character actress in many a British film, often playing a nanny or maid; Michael Ripper who plays the long suffering Mr. Shepherd, the man who looked after the Aunt Sally appeared in more Hammer films than any other actor, usually as a barman, coachman or undertaker; Geoffrey Bayldon, famous as both the Crowman and prior to this on TV as Catweazle, also appeared in a number of horror films, as did Beryl Reid who plays Worzel’s mum. There are also a couple of actresses more famous for their Carry On films in the shape of Barbara Windsor as Saucy Nancy and Joan Sims as the middle-England character, Mrs. Bloomsbury-Barton. There is also Thorley Walters, a regular film character actor who has a wonderful one episode appearance as a Colonel Bloodshot. One of the funniest and best characters, asides from Worzel and Aunt Sally is Lorraine Chase as the beautiful Dolly Clothes Peg, a shop window mannequin. At the time, Chase was a model famous from a TV commercial with Leonard Rossiter with her strong cockney accent, but she absolutely shines in the only two episodes she appears in with Worzel. But of course it is Pertwee’s Worzel with his faux West Country accent as the lively scarecrow that makes the show. The dialogue, written by Keith Waterhouse is sharp, funny and well observed. He is a writer who had originally cut his teeth writing some classic kitchen sink dramas such as A Kind of Loving (1962), Billy Liar and West 11 (both 1963).

Jon Pertwee and Una Stubbs.

Fabulous Films have done a fantastic job in restoring and bringing this collection together packed with extras. As well as having all four of the original series collected on five discs, the archives have been trawled extensively from daytime TV interviews with Pertwee, Stubbs and Bayldon to Southern Television events, a recent reuniting of some of the cast members in front of a live audience which includes Jon Pertwee’s son, Sean as well as an episode guide booklet. The most shocking is a contemporary interview on Southern Television with Lorraine Chase in which the interviewer mocks Chase for her strong cockney accent. All in all this is an extraordinary collection of an extraordinary TV show that deserves to be seen and discovered by a new audience. My own wife and daughter had never seen nor heard of Worzel Gummidge, but after getting over the ‘weird old England’ on display they soon became hooked and has become a regular feature of our own Sunday evening viewing. Hopefully, there are plans afoot by Fabulous to re-release the Worzel Down Under series which from 1987-89 which saw Worzel and Aunt Sally in Australia.


Chris Hick

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