On the Fringe if not quite beyond it, the column has a confession to make

IT’S already decided. When they cart me out, many years hence, it will be to the tune of Simon and Garfunkel singing Scarborough Fair.

When they cart me in, about six hymns and an hour-and-a-half earlier, it will be to the harmonica strains of the theme from Last of the Summer Wine.

Summer Wine’s brilliant, though not everyone’s tipple. Chiefly featuring a trio of elderly ten-year-olds, it ran for 37 years and 295 episodes, usually on Sunday evenings.

The lady loathed it, the boys mocked it, I loved it. Bob Fischer and Andrew Smith so greatly share that edgy enthusiasm that last week their show in fondest memory played on the Edinburgh Free Fringe.

Andrew talks of sublime northern melancholy, Bob of killer one-liners. “People think it was just about old men going downhill in a bath tub. That was just one episode out of 295,” says Andrew. “It changed completely over the years, the first shows were pretty gritty, very 70s and dark. I think Summer Wine was best when it was reminiscing about being close to death.”

“You don’t hear people saying that Coronation Street was a show about someone getting killed by a tram,” says Bob. “Bath Tubs was once, Summer Wine is an all-time classic.”

BOB’S 47, 20 years with BBC Tees – “every show imaginable”. Andrew 31, is a film and television producer from Gateshead. Under-age intoxicated, both grew up with Summer Wine. “One last blast of freedom on a Sunday afternoon before the inevitability of school next morning,” says Andrew.

They met in Newcastle at a Dr Who convention in 2004, discovered that the good doctor was only their second favourite programme, vowed to watch every episode sequentially and launched a Summer Winos blog.

They contacted actors like Jonathan Linsley, who played the bovine Crusher, persuaded him back to Holmfirth – the programme’s West Yorkshire home – for the first time in 30 years.

The pair also wrote what they call a “love letter” to Roy Clarke, who scripted every episode, and were delighted to be invited for dinner. “He was lovely, insisted on paying. We got absolutely slaughtered. He was 86 and drank us under the table,” Bob recalls.

The 50-minute show previewed at Sid’s Café in Holmfirth and at the Waiting Room restaurant in Eaglescliffe, fought for attention on the Fringe with around 3,000 other gigs, most of them comedy. Even at a laugh a minute, it could still take a fortnight to see them all.

They’re one of five or six shows each day at Bannerman’s in Cowgate, promoted as a “rock and whisky bar” and said by the Winos to be Edinburgh’s punk and heavy metal capital.

It’s venue number 357. There are 540, from the Salvation Army to the Royal College of Surgeons and from the Quaker Meeting House to Cranston Caravan Club.

Fischer wonderfully embraces the lovelorn Compo, the human scarecrow driven wild by Nora Batty. Smith caps Cleggy pretty well, too, though it’s hard to remember Peter Sallis with a beard.

The third part, the ever-embattled former corporal sign writer Foggy Dewhirst, is filled by a conscript from the audience. The lady does it very well.

IMAGINE it, though, imagine Edinburgh, the 500-page free festival guide as thick as a deep-fried Mars Bar and about 20 times the size. Even the municipal litter bins carry what-do-you-think-of-it-so-far jokes on the side.

What did the fish say when it swam into a wall?


What did the buffalo say to his lad when dropping him off for his first day at school.


Bob and Andrew have spent the afternoon on what they call “flyering” – flyering by the seat of their pants – around what’s a greatly crowded Grassmarket. Edinburgh at Festival time may have more flyers than a month of midges.

The first day their free show attracted around 40 people, the second a lot fewer. Immediately ahead of last Wednesday’s gig they’re shoving flyers – “British social history” they say of Summer Winos – into customers’ overflowing embrace.

The audience of 16 includes the peripatetic press, two of their mates from a Dad’s Army show and Andrew’s girlfriend, Emma. The only income is a post-show collection in Compo’s right welly.

They admit they’re obsessive, hope that the old boys may yet have legs, plan further activities in their anarchic honour. Soon it will be September, but we’ve not had the last of the summer wine yet.

THE August issue of the Settle-Carlisle Railway Journal, meanwhile, has a learned piece on the derivation of Batty Wife Hole, once a sizeable navvies’ settlement near Ribblehead Viaduct.

Mr and Mrs Batty, it’s said, would ceaselessly bicker. The most popular theory is that Mrs Batty – forename unrecorded, but surely Nora – drowned herself in a flooded pothole after her husband failed to turn up for a reconciliation attempt. The old feller – Wally, you’d imagine – then threw himself in after her.

Roy Clarke appears not to have thought of that one.

WE’D booked first class to Edinburgh by Cross Country, that being precisely 60p more than standard and with bacon butties, biscuits and unlimited coffee. Prominently painted above the first class netty is the information that Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate in York was known in 1505 as Whitnourwhatnourgate and that it translated as “What a street”. These are what’s called Fringe benefits.

NORTH-EAST comedian Rudi West is stage-named after a Dutch actor who died in 1969. Rudi and his mate Mike Milligan died at the Edinburgh Fringe, 19 years ago this week.

It was the last time we’d been at the Edinburgh Festival, West and Milligan due to play a (then) subterranean sump called the Liquid Room and, drop by drop, evaporating.

Rudi, from Durham, was a former supermarket worker and tyre fitter; Mick was a primary school teacher in Newcastle. “We had an Ofsted inspection last year and it wasn’t half as dreadful as this lot,” he said.

On a night off, Rudi had headed back to Bishop Auckland to play Tindale Crescent club. “It was packed to the rafters. I was so excited at getting a crowd again I went berserk and gave them an hour and 35 minutes,” he said.

Six turned up, two of them given tickets by a taxi driver who’d been given them by someone else. They called it a night and we all went for a long solace in the pub.

The Liquid Room flows onward, its Festival gigs this year ranging from Charlie Caper (“winner of Sweden’s got talent”) to the London Humanist Choir – “rousing choruses from the songbook of unbelievers.”

Almost everything on the Fringe is categorised as “music”, “comedy” or “theatre”. These guys are “science and rationalism”.

Rudi’s still standing, too, last encountered at an East Rainton Cricket Club do in 2010, but these days more familiar on the cruise ships – “I’m the only one with my own hips, even the port holes are bifocal.”

Still he remembered the lunatic Fringe. As the non-humanist hymn writer has it, hail thee Festival day.